The Changing Nature Of Sacred Spaces


Published:

The Multi-faith Chapel at Hebrew Senior Life / Newbridge On The Charles, Dedham, Massachusetts.

Randall Armor, CC BY-NC-ND

Congregational membership in the United States is slowly declining. Data from the General Social Survey show that 17 percent of Americans attended a religious gathering weekly in the 1990s. By 2010, this number had dropped to 11 percent.

These changes spark new questions about how people’s personal religious and spiritual beliefs are changing. They also raise questions about where, if at all, people experience the sacred.

With architectural historian Alice Friedman and photographer Randall Armor, I located and documented more than 50 hidden sacred spaces in the greater Boston area alone.

Tucked around the edges in Boston – in hospital chapels, meditation rooms in universities, and prayer rooms in airports, nursing homes and a range of other institutions – these spaces are open to the public.

Initial Glimpses

While conducting research for a book about religion and spirituality in health care, I visited many hospital chapels, meditation and prayer rooms. I began a conversation with Alice and architect Karla Johnson, who built an interfaith space at Tufts, several years ago. We hoped to photograph and share these spaces with a broader audience as a next step in our conversation. Karla became ill and died in 2016, and Alice and I decided to continue these efforts in her memory.

Chapel at New England Seafarers Mission. Randall Armor, CC BY-NC-ND As a first step, photographer Randy Armor and I started driving around the city last summer photographing as many chapels, meditation and prayer rooms as we could find in institutions focused on things other than religion and spirituality. In the past nine months we have located close to 80 such spaces and photographed just over 50.

Even as congregations decline, we learned, chapels, meditation and prayer rooms remain, and people are eager to talk with us about them.

Evolving Over Time

We found these spaces in hospitals, nursing homes, colleges and universities, the port, the airport, public parks, malls, state prisons, cemeteries and even a local museum. Some are standalone, while others are a part of larger buildings. Some were designed by well-known architects, while others were created informally by people desiring a small retreat.

The chapel at MIT, for example, was designed in 1955 by prominent architect Eero Saarinen and paired with his famous Kresge Auditorium nearby, intended to meet the religious and spiritual needs of everyone on the MIT campus. A small prayer space at the New England Seafarers Mission in the port, in contrast, has been moved and changed several times. Today it consists of a cushion for someone in a kneeling position, behind a movable screen under a tapestry of the Last Supper.

 Chapel at Northeastern University. Randall Armor, CC BY-NC-NDWhile some of the spaces we found look much as they did when constructed, others have evolved over time to accommodate people from a range of religious traditions. At Brandeis University, for example, the original chapels were built in the early 1950s for Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Today there are spaces for Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other students in various areas across campus.

At Northeastern University, a sacred space, a reflection room and an area for ablution, private prayer and meditation were literally built on the ashes of the university’s tradition Bacon Memorial Chapel, which burned in the 1990s. Designed by architects Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani and opened in 1998, the area was designed to be flexible and accessible to multiple religious practitioners.

Negotiating Religious Differences

Many of the spaces we located are utilized by diverse people and groups. Designers and users make a range of decisions to try to accommodate everyone. Flexibility is evident in many health care organizations where religious symbols have increasingly been removed from traditional chapels and furniture put on wheels to be as versatile as possible.

At Massachusetts General Hospital, the original chapel, which opened in April 25, 1941, was created through the work of Rev. William Lawrence, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. In the late 1930s, he sent more than 1,500 letters to friends of the hospital asking for support to build it. A cross in the early chapel was removed and symbols and objects added for practice in a broader range of religious traditions.

Chapel at Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Concord. Randall Armor, CC BY-NC-ND A Muslim prayer room was opened around the corner from the chapel in 1999 and a mihrab, or special niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, was added in 2005. Verses from the Koran in English and Arabic hang in the Muslim prayer room, which is used by visitors throughout the day. Friday prayers are held in a larger conference room nearby.

Prison chapels in greater Boston have also expanded to include spaces for people from multiple religious traditions. Constructed in the 1970s, a sunken building housing the chapels sits at the center of Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord. A Catholic chapel, Protestant chapel and Muslim prayer room inside are staffed by full and part-time chaplains from Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish backgrounds.

Everyday Uses

While formal religious services continue to take place in a few of these settings – especially prison chapels – the majority are mostly often used as places of quiet respite. As we traveled around the city, we saw nurses stop into hospital chapels as their shifts change and family members use them as quiet places to cry.

Chapel at Logan International Airport, Boston. Randall Armor, CC BY-NC-ND We saw travelers at Logan Airport sit in darkened pews, with eyes closed and a small suitcase nearby, before they hurried off to find their gates. And we saw many people come through the chapel in the Prudential Center Mall in the midst of their working days.

Some of these spaces are multi-faith, while others are Catholic. Some are mostly empty, while others – especially those in prisons – seem to often be full. Some, like Cushing Memorial Chapel in Framingham, tell stories about institutions shifting from care for veterans to the elderly to everyone – the chapel is now in a park, the rest of the institution having been demolished.

As a group, all of these spaces suggest that what makes spaces sacred in Boston and nationally is shifting from religious symbols alone to broader symbols of nature, light and air. Such spaces are used quietly by many people across the United States even as congregations decline.

We encourage people to notice them and the pause they encourage, often hidden from plain sight.

Wendy Cadge is a Professor in the Sociology Department at Brandeis University. She teaches and writes about religion in the contemporary United States, especially as related to healthcare, immigration and sexuality. She is the author of Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine (University of Chicago Press, 2012), Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America (University of Chicago Press, 2005) and is a co-editor of Religion on the Edge: De-Centering and Re-Centering the Sociology of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2013).

This article was republished from The Conversation.

See also:
A Park Where You Can Walk Among 1,500-Year-Old Bears And Birds
Creating Sacred Space In Your Own Location

The Conversation

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

October 21, 2019

On Mondays many folks routinely struggle to get back in work mode. Due to this morning’s edgy Last Quarter Cancer Moon, the commute may feel especially jarring. Take things one gentle step at a time. The Moon then goes void of course until midday…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2019

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

A beautiful collection of messages from Jeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) that will transform your life, as it did his. Coming together to study these teachings, to ponder, to savor, to deepen our...

Cost: $25 per class

Where:
Heart and Soul Holistic Healing Center
130 Massapoag Avenue
Sharon, MA  02067
View map »


Sponsor: Heart and Soul Holistic
Telephone: 781-258-9942
Contact Name: Barbara Ann Strassman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Free Evidence-Based Holistic Health Education Program at Wilbraham Senior Center The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation), created and instructed by Michelle...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

October 23 & 30, 2019, 7–9pm Instructor: Judith A. Swack, Ph.D. Register at http://www.newtoncommunityed.org Do you have a fear of flying, heights, public speaking or other...

Where:
Needham, MA


Sponsor: Healing from the Body Level Up
Telephone: (800) 310-6549 / (781) 444-6940
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

It's everyone's favorite night! Eat, drink, laugh, dance, connect and meet providers! Women's health seminars  Mini spa treatments  All-natural...

Cost: Free

Where:
Groton Wellness
493-495 Main Street
Groton, MA  01450
View map »


Sponsor: Groton Wellness
Telephone: 978-449-9919
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Attend a brand new class on awaking and accessing your authentic self! We are brought up in a world where it is difficult to know how to connect to, and express our whole and authentic selves....

Cost: $45

Where:
The Graduate Institute
171 Amity Rd
Bethany, CT  06524-3435
View map »


Sponsor: The Graduate Institute
Telephone: 203-874-4252
Contact Name: The Graduate Institute
Website »

More information

Prana Vidya is a powerful Yogic technique, based on scientific principles, that helps us connect to the most fundamental, throbbing energy of the cosmos. The system uses the concept of Chakras, to...

Cost: $40 before Oct 22 ($45 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

We are proud to welcome Swami Maheshananada Saraswati, a world- renowned Yogi to Boston after 10 years.  Swami Mahesh is a wandering yogi from India. He has a degree in engineering and a...

Where:
SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street
Suite 108B
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Consciousness does not just passively reflect the objective material world; it plays an active role in creating reality itself.” —Stanislav Grof MD, from The Holotropic Mind...

Cost: $150. $175 after October 19

Where:
Unity Somerville
6 William Street
Somerville, MA  02144
View map »


Sponsor: Allen Howell, M.Ed. LMHC
Website »

More information

October 26th and 27th Deepen your knowledge and practice of Reiki. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (Master-Teacher) This two-day Level II Training enhances your...

Cost: $250

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

Prana is the universal life force, the essence of all motion, and the basis of all manifestation in the Cosmos. It is the essence of life and existence itself. The yogis and the Seers have...

Cost: $45 before 10/22 ($50 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Yoga is a science of total health and harmony. The science of Yoga is dedicated to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing of mankind. A proper approach to yoga brings...

Cost: $40 before 10/22 ($45 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

We are excited in the midst of our favorite holiday season! Join us for an evening workshop preparing your own take home potion and lotions. As we prepare for the close of the next harvest and...

Cost: $30 pre-reg. or $35 at the door

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers — Heaven and Earth
68 Stile Rd.
Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Mount Kailash, the Crown Chakra of the Earth, the abode of Lord Shiva and the Holiest pilgrimage for Hindus! Located at 18,000ft in High Himalayas, Mt Kailash is as real as it is mythical and...

Cost: pay-what-you-want ($20 recommended)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

October 26–27 Weekend workshop with David Dalton, founder of Delta Gardens. Explore the art of vibrational flower and gem essence healing with a master crafter of essences. Email...

Cost: $360

Where:
Roots to Wings
Newbury, MA


Telephone: (603) 601-6929
Website »

More information

October 26–27 Saturday 9:30–10 am registration, 10 am–5 pm class Sunday 10 am–5 pm class This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
Spirit Dancer Books & Gifts
125 South Winooski Ave
Burlington, VT  05401
View map »


Telephone: 617-366-6042
Website »

More information

With Nicci Goot Build a foundation of essential virtues for developing altruism, compassion and loving kindness for living a life of harmony and joy. 4 session-program

Where:
State of Grace Yoga
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

We are proud to welcome Swami Maheshananada Saraswati, a world- renowned Yogi to Boston after 10 years.  Swami Mahesh is a wandering yogi from India. He has a degree in engineering and a...

Where:
SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street
Suite 108B
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags