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Provincetown :: Sunday, April 23rd 2017

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Meeting House

@home, Provincetown

August 15th, 2011

Summer is in full swing in Ptown! The crooked little streets of this old town are teeming to overflowing with merrymaking visitors. Sometimes the cacophony of sounds is enough to make one wholeheartedly wish for the cool breezes of Autumn. Amid the tumult and noise of the summer . . . there is a haven of peace and serenity right on Commercial Street. Set back from the rest of the fray behind a verdant square of lawn, the First Unitarian Universalist Church is an amazing place to stop and collect one’s thoughts and breathe deep on these sunny summer days.

On a warm summer’s day, it is lovely to sit peacefully and listen to the clinking of the chandelier as the breeze come through the open windows and interesting shadows fall upon floor.

The original “meeting house” was built in 1829; by 1846 the congregation had outgrown it. There was a consensus it was time to look for another place to worship and in 1847 it was moved to the center of town. Off-duty fishermen and seamen were hired for a dollar a day to work on the construction of the new site, which was designed along the same clean and elegant lines as a Greek Revival church in Fall River, Massachusetts. The sanctuary on the second floor is a true work of art. Its elegant tromp lei (which means to fool the eyes) murals will fool even the sharpest of eyes with the three dimensional alcoves, pilasters and panels painted by Carl Wendte, a young artist from Germany. The ceiling was painted to look like the dome of the temple of Jupiter in Athens, Greece. It has often been said that this room is one of only a handful of Greek Revivalist painted rooms still intact in its original location today.

The white pine pews with mahogany handrails were made of wood used as ballast on ships; they are decorated with whale ivory medallions that pay tribute to the seafaring past of town. The raised pulpit is hand carved out of Honduran mahogany. The large chandelier is still lighted each day and its original sandwich glass globes, fonts and prisms now reflect electric light instead of whale oil. The organ is a Holbrook tracker pipe organ, few of which are still used, installed in 1847 for the church’s dedication. Ten years after the dedication the Wren-style steeple was added, giving the building a very definite elegance and changing forever the landscape of town. However, life on this sand bar was not all that good for this building and it slowly began to sink into the sand . . . after one hundred and some years, the steeple was restructured and reinforced in 1999. Steel beams were inserted into the chase ways and under the foundation. They reach about fourteen feet thru the sand and water to reach another layer of sand and support the structure hopefully for another hundred or so years.

Luckily the building still fulfills its original purpose as a spiritual center for its congregation and others. In recent years, it is also used as a performance space and has had many an amazing voice ringing off the sandwich glass prisms of the chandelier and swirling amid the porticos of those beautiful murals . . . the acoustics in this place are astounding. On a warm summer’s day, it is lovely to sit peacefully and listen to the clinking of the chandelier as the breeze come through the open windows and interesting shadows fall upon floor. So the next time your wandering through this crazy quilt of a town, look for the church and the steeple and then peek inside and see how it truly feels to be @home, in provincetown.


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