As heirs to the Church of England, Episcopal congregations are often among the oldest — if not the oldest — in many New England towns. In Provincetown, however, the Episcopal church was among the latest arrivals. Even the Church of Christ, Scientist had a permanent sanctuary here (418 Commercial Street) before the Episcopalians did. But under the Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, who was called in 1933 to be the first vicar of St. Mary’s and is portrayed here by Jerry Farnsworth, the young church flourished, becoming a small artistic treasure house in the process. (Its nominal street number is 517, but the lot embraces what used to be four discreet properties, from No. 513 to No. 519.) More pictures and history»
Former St. Anne’s Convent
The hills may or may not be alive with the sound of music, but 20 Court Street was once a Roman Catholic convent, housing the sisters of the Love of God (Mother Cecilia is pictured at left). This was not so very long ago, beginning in the early 1960s during the pastorate of the Rev. Leo J. Duart at the Church of St. Peter the Apostle, 11 Prince Street. The house was originally constructed around 1850. In the 1950s, it was the home of Frank A. Days Jr. (±1877-1961) and his wife, Anna Aurelia (Swett) Days (±1877-1957). Days had run F. A. Days & Company, founded by his father, who built the lumberyard on Pearl Street that became the nucleus of the Fine Arts Work Center. (Their daughter, born Anna, had been called into religious service as Sister Mary Leander.) More pictures and history»
Old White Oak Meeting House
The “Old White Oak” — built of that wood, harvested from nearby hillsides when one still could harvest lumber at the Cape end — was Provincetown’s second church. It was constructed in 1773 and dedicated on 20 February 1774. At the time, just before the Revolution, the Orthodox Christianity of the Puritans and Pilgrims was the established religion of the colony, and as such, the construction of the meeting house was a municipal endeavor. The call to the Rev. Samuel Parker was made, in fact, at a Town Meeting in December 1773. Parker was promised an annual salary of £67.13s.4d “to settel in sed town, and preach ye gospel to ye inhabitants.” More pictures and history»
Church of St. Peter the Apostle (Campus)
The Unitarian church and the old Methodist church have steeples that pierce the skyline. The Episcopal church is an artistic treasure house. The old Congregational church, full of commercial tenants, sits next to Town Hall. The modern Methodist church can’t be missed on your way to the supermarket. And the old Christian Science church is a gallery owned by a renowned family of artists.
The only church that casual visitors might miss is the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter the Apostle. That’s a pity, because it was far and away the most important unifying force in the town’s social and spiritual life through much of the 20th century. St. Peter’s was — and in many ways still is — the heart of the Portuguese community. There’s a reason the annual Blessing of the Fleet begins here. The Rev. Leo J. Duart, pictured above, was an ambitious parochial leader, responsible for the construction of a parish hall and a school in the 1950s. Separate entries will cover the old and new churches. This entry concerns St. Peter’s campus generally, before and after a fire in 2005 that destroyed the church pictured in the post card above. More pictures and history»
Church of St. Peter the Apostle (1874)
Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. The words of Jesus, taken from the Gospel of Matthew, can be seen clearly in the scroll held by the right hand in the figure of St. Peter at the church that bears his name. “You are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church.” There could be no more fitting a patron for Provincetown than Peter, the fisherman, to whom Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven, which the figure holds in its left hand. The church building was completed and blessed on 11 October 1874 during the pastorate of the Rev. John J. Maguire (d 1894).
Though the priesthood was a late vocation for the Rev. Henry J. Dahl (b 1941), pictured at left, he found himself involved in the arduous — if ultimately rewarding — challenge of church building within four years of his ordination in 1996. After helping the Rev. Marcel Bouchard construct a new home for Corpus Christi in East Sandwich, Father Dahl might reasonably have expected that he’d had his once-in-a-priest’s-lifetime experience in church development. Perhaps he imagined that his principal task when called to the pastorate of St. Peter’s in 2002 would be the maintenance and conservation of a building at 11 Prince Street that had after all been standing stoutly for 130 years; defying the Portland Gale and the Hurricane of 1938, among other onslaughts.
Provincetown offers nothing if not surprises, however. Only three years into his service on the lower Cape, Father Dahl was confronted — overnight in the dead of winter — with the worst catastrophe to befall the parish. St. Peter’s burned to the ground. And it fell to him to rebuild. Two-and-a-half years later, the deed was done, to designs by Tom Palanza of Mansfield, an architect and a deacon of the church.
“Is God dead?” was the question posed by Time magazine in 1966. The answer could have been: “If He’s still alive, he sure isn’t paying much attention to the architecture being committed in His name.” The general descent in quality of religious buildings in the West after World War II reflected the trauma their builders had just endured; a conflict that left even the faithful with many doubts. Rather than try to inspire awe or mystery or rapture, post-war houses of worship seemed content to take their cues from stripped-down residential and commercial buildings.
In that context, the Methodist church designed by Donaldson Ray McMullin Associates of Cambridge (that’s one man’s name, not a three-person firm), built from 1958 to 1960, was a remarkable achievement. Its compelling nave, with arresting redwood parquetry and steeply-pitched, exposed roof beams, tends very much to direct one’s eyes and thoughts upward, while exuding warmth and a connection with the natural world and to the craft of boat building.