These Sacred Spaces in Boston Are Hidden in Plain Sight
A new photography project explores chapels and prayer rooms around the city.
On your last jaunt through Logan Airport, you may have unknowingly passed by Our Lady of the Airways. It’s a chapel inside the airport—the first of its kind in the country—beyond baggage claim in Terminal C.
While the chapel has been in use 1951, it’s easily overlooked. That’s part of the reason why Brandeis professor Wendy Cadge has set out to document “hidden” prayer spaces tucked away in secular corners of the city. Her project, called Hidden Sacred Spaces, compiles more than 50 of these chapels, meditation rooms, and prayer rooms.
The idea, says Cadge, was to look at any kind of sacred space that was not in a congregational setting, where “the main purpose of the building was not an explicitly religious purpose,” she says.
She joined forces with photographer Randall Armor to capture striking images of the spaces, which range from a Native American sweat lodge at Norfolk Correctional Institution to an Eero Saarinen-designed chapel at MIT.
Some of the prayer rooms are simple, like the rustic chapel on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor. Others, like the chapels in Mount Auburn Cemetery, are adorned with massive panels of stained glass. The modernist chapel in the Erich Lindemann Mental Health Center consists of curved walls of concrete.
Cadge explains these pockets of tranquility are often hidden in plain sight. The chapel at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, for example, is clearly visible from the Jamaicaway.
“So a lot of them, people probably see every day, but have no idea what they are or have never visited,” says Cadge.
Cadge was inspired to identify Boston’s hidden sacred spaces last year after hosting a seminar with Alice Friedman, an architectural historian at Wellesley College, and Karla Johnson, a Somerville-based architect. The seminar centered around chapels and meditation rooms in public settings, and when it concluded, Cadge decided to continue the conversation.
After Johnson passed away in early 2016, Cadge teamed up with Armor and Friedman to complete the project in Johnson’s honor. Now, after photographing dozens of prayer spaces, the group is in the process of finding places interested in exhibiting the photos. So far, they’ll be shown at three local retirement centers.
“My vision, honestly, is to have photographs in waiting rooms—in places where people wait,” says Cadge. “Because to me, part of the story about these spaces is that they invite pause in surprising places.”
She explains that hopefully, the project will help people recognize presence of religion and spirituality around them in ways they hadn’t noticed before.
“And regardless of their own backgrounds, to think of the ways that these sorts of spaces encourage us all to pause in our daily lives,” says Cadge. “In the midst of running from here to there in the airport, in a hospital, in any of these places—to just pause, take a few breaths, and appreciate where we are.”
See more photos from Hidden Sacred Spaces below, and view the full project at hiddensacredspaces.org.