517 Commercial Street

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, Arnold Geissbuhler's sculptures on the rood screen, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, Arnold Geissbuhler’s sculptures on the rood screen, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Episcopal congregations are often among the oldest in New England towns. In Provincetown, however, the Church of St. Mary of the Harbor was among the latest arrivals. Regular Anglican services were not celebrated until 1904, at King Hiram’s Lodge. In 1907, the Rev. James Cogan arrived to take charge of services, which he conducted through 1921 at the Star Theater, the First Universalist Church, Marine Hall, the First National Bank, and 217 Commercial. In 1919, the church purchased a three-story former salt house at 513 Commercial and turned it into a temporary church. Billow-Crest, on the adjacent parcel at No. 517, was purchased in 1922. Today, it is Nicholson Hall, named for the Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, who was called in 1933 to be the first vicar. That’s him in a 1936 portrait by Jerry Farnsworth.

“Madonna of the Harbor,” by Frederick Waugh.

Under Nicholson, the church flourished. Construction began on a permanent house of worship, designed by the painter Frederick Waugh, who also contributed Madonna of the Harbor. The chancel, on the south end of the church, is the reconstructed Sandbar Club from the West End, the timbers of which were salvaged and numbered for reassembly. Richard Miller contributed the reredos painting, The Triumphal Entry. The painting above that is The Coming of the Holy Spirit, by Constance Bigelow. At the rear of the church is The Epiphany Mural by Robert Douglas Hunter. In the vestibule is Joyeux Noël by Peter Hunt. Atop the oak beam that serves as a rood screen are sculptures by Arnold Geissbuhler: Christ on the Waters, flanked by Adoring Angels. Claude Jensen created stained-glass windows in 1963 with clear plastic interstices. The sculptor William Boogar Jr. has a number of pieces in the church and the garden, which was largely the work of Waugh and Nicholson, who said, “Everyone wants to give artworks to the church but no one has offered what we need most — a load of manure — in memory of his grandmother!” The S-4 memorial cross in the garden was replaced in 1967 with a new nine-foot version, carved from California redwood by Frederick Maichle Jr.

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, by David W. Dunlap (2013).

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, by David W. Dunlap (2013).

The Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, by Jerry Farnsworth.

The Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, by Jerry Farnsworth.

The Rev. Terry Pannell, by Deborah Minsky, for The Banner.

The Rev. Terry Pannell, by Deborah Minsky, for The Banner.


 
The church was dedicated in 1936. Nicholson was succeeded in 1938 by the Rev. James De Wolfe Perry, the first to dwell in the vicarage at No. 519, where John Whorf had lived. In 1946, St. Mary’s became a parish. The Rev. Terry Pannell has served as rector since 2006. It fell to him in 2014 to begin a $318,000 project to rehabilitate the battered structure. He told The Banner, “Areas once held up mostly by prayer are now temporarily supported by heavy cross ties and steel I-beams.”


More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.

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