At street level it’s easy to get distracted by Boston’s Newbury Street and its array of boutiques and restaurants. But at the intersection of Newbury and Exeter stands a commanding artifact from one of the more fascinating religious movements in American history, the First Spiritual Temple.
The ghostly faces carved onto the corners of the building hint at its religious history: This was the first formal house of worship in the United States for Spiritualism. Today the phrase means little to most Americans, but in the middle of the 19th century it was a vibrant religious movement. First made popular by the Fox sisters of Rochester, New York, Spiritualists popularized the idea that the living could commune with the dead through ceremonies like séances.
The movement became especially popular during and after the Civil War as families worked with mediums in an attempt to commune with sons, brothers, and fathers who had died during the war (the Ouija board was another manifestation of this movement).
Despite its popularity, the movement was mostly one of households and camp revivals, and resulted in few houses of worship. The First Spiritual Temple is a rare, and magnificent, exception. The building, which was completed in 1885, is built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, whose best known example, Trinity Church in Copley Square, is located just a few blocks over. On the corners of the buildings, you can see carvings of ghostly faces, one of the few external clues to the building’s purpose.
The building itself only served a religious purpose for two decades. It later became a theater, and today houses a Montessori School in addition to a restaurant.
Know Before You Go
Just walk on by and don't forget to look up!