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City Icons
Author: TriSec    Date: 04/20/2019 11:34:37

While it looks vaguely familiar, and you know where the design cues came from, this is not France. It's Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

https://www.bostoncatholic.org/uploadedImages/cathedraloftheholycross2013.jpg


Like most things, photos do not do it justice. It's a massive structure, almost exactly the same size as Westminster Abbey in London. But it's almost unknown outside this city. It's well off the beaten path, nowhere near downtown, and on a quieter street in the South Boston section of town. If you want to see it, it requires a special trip.


More characteristic of Boston's churches is the far more iconic Trinity Church, located in the heart of the Back Bay at Copley Square.

https://www.goodyclancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Trinity-Church-1A_Aerial_Goody-Clancy-900x615.jpg


Built here in 1877, it was designed by the architect Henry Hobson Richardson in his signature style, now called "Richardsonian Romanesque". Should you ever visit our fair city, I can't recommend this one enough - it's one of my favourite buildings here in town.

Despite all the Victorian Splendor of the Back Bay, there's an even more iconic structure atop a small hill in the North End with national significance.

https://newengland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/old-north-church-rear-433x650.jpg


It doesn't look like much. Originally built as "Christ Church" in 1723, during the years leading up to the Revolution, most of Boston's prominent citizens worshiped here. It's enduring fame was gained on the night of April 18, 1775.

At the time, the steeple was the highest point in the city, and it made a great signalling location. Paul Revere, the courier for the Sons of Liberty, was given the task of getting a warning out to John Hancock and Sam Adams. Those men were out of town in Lexington, Massachusetts about 15 miles away. Through the vast spy network run by Dr. Joseph Warren, it was discovered that about 2,000 troops were planning on leaving town to try to capture the Patriot Arsenal at Buttrick farm in Concord. Being able to arrest John and Sam on the way was seen as an added bonus.

Paul enlisted his friend, Sexton Robert Newman, to shine lanterns from the height of the steeple as a way of signalling the Charlestown Minutemen, who were prepared to send horsemen out into the countryside to warn Lexington.

Paul's involvement was originally minimal; he was in charge of sending the message, and then ensuring that it had been received and the riders sent. On that night, he originally had no plans to ride himself, despite what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow claimed in his horribly inaccurate poem.


He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”


Paul did indeed make it to Charlestown, but after he first had the message sent from the steeple of Christ Church. Reaching the opposite shore, he was dismayed to discover that while the message had been received, there was actually nobody available to send it further. So he borrowed a horse from his friend Deacon Larkin in Charlestown and set off himself.....as we know, the rest is now history.

"Old North Church" still stands today, as a testament to a shared past, and the most-visited historic building here in Boston. While fire has never touched Old North, storms have. The steeple is now the third. The original was toppled in a blizzard back in 1804, and the first replacement fell during Hurricane Carol in 1954.

Our mere three-hundred year old buildings here in town pale in comparison to the centuries witnessed by iconic structures in Europe. It is the nature of humanity to rebuild and move on in the wake of disasters. Here is hoping that Paris can do what other cities have proven can be done. Perhaps our grandchildren will know of the fire, but can visit again and barely notice that anything ever happened.
 

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