Seaman’s Bethel // 1833

Located in North Square in the North End of Boston, the Seaman’s Bethel, now Sacred Heart, is one of the oldest and historic places of worship in the city. The church was run by the Port Society of the City of Boston, a missionary group associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Founded in 1828 to provide moral and religious instruction to seamen, the society established the nonsectarian Seamen’s Bethel with the Rev. Edward Thompson Taylor (1793-1871) as minister. Reverend Taylor was raised by a foster mother in Virginia, and he later ran away from home at the age of seven to begin a career as a sailor, settling in Boston. As a young man, he heard a sermon at the Park Street Church and wished to become a preacher. He sailed around the coast, delivering sermons to various port towns until he settled in Boston again and established the Seaman’s Bethel alongside the Port Society. Father Taylor drew admiration from esteemed scholars and academics and always filled the pews in the church, until his death in 1871. The Seaman’s Bethel later fell unto hard economic times and sold their church building to the Catholic Church by 1884.

The architect of the church is unknown, but some accounts list Gridley J. F. Bryant as responsible. It would have been among his first professional works in Boston. Bryant went on to design iconic buildings including the Massachusetts State House and Boston’s Old City Hall. The Federal style church is four bays across and seven bays deep, this 1½-story gabled building on a raised basement features a pedimented facade with square center tower that was remodeled, apparently ca. 1898, with the addition of arched parapet walls at the roofline ornamented with cartouches. The building retains most of its original full-height round-arched window openings in brick surrounds.

Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Companion clipping showing Seaman’s Bethel and Father Taylor. Courtesy of Historic New England.
Seaman’s Bethel ca. 1860. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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