Architect George "Butch" Razoyk has built and restored a lot of churches over the years, but the challenge in Braintree was unusual: convert a conference area in a standard-issue glass-and-steel office building alongside an interstate highway into something with an aura of the sacred and the special.
Yesterday, the Archdiocese of Boston unveiled the result, a 3,600-square-foot worship space, named the Bethany Chapel after the New Testament hometown of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The chapel is inside the new archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Braintree, which in July replaced the old chancery complex in Brighton as the archdiocese's headquarters office building. The chapel will be used primarily for daily Mass and as a prayer space for the 225 church employees who work in the new building.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley blessed the chapel and dedicated the altar in a theatrical ceremony rich with ritual. At the entryway, he accepted a key to the chapel from Daniel Flatley, whose father, self-made billionaire Thomas Flatley, donated the property to the cash-strapped archdiocese and then died shortly thereafter. Inside, O'Malley knelt on the carpet to insert relics of nine saints (Frances Xavier Cabrini, Francis of Assisi, Gertrude the Great, James the Less, Lawrence, Margaret Mary Alacoque, Maria Goretti, Paul of the Cross, and Philip) into a niche in the altar's base. He then rolled up his multiple sleeves (he was wearing a white chasuble over a white dalmatic over his brown Capuchin habit), poured chrism oil onto the cherrywood altar, and rubbed it in with his bare hands (several nuns then wiped the table clean). Finally, he sprinkled incense into a tabletop brazier filled with hot charcoal, resulting in a thick cloud of pungent smoke rising up into the air (see photo below).
O'Malley called the ceremony a "rededication,'' saying "every altar is a new leaf in the table that Jesus used in the last supper.'' He also called the ceremony a "Catholic Hanukkah,'' comparing the rededication of the altar to the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem that is commemorated by the Jewish holiday.
O'Malley was heavily involved with the design of the chapel, personally selecting much of the iconography. The stained glass windows come from parishes that were closed in recent years: St. Jerome in Arlington, St. Peter in Gloucester, and Immaculate Conception (Lithuanian) in Cambridge, all closed by O'Malley, and Sacred Heart (Polish) in Ipswich, which had been closed by Cardinal Bernard F. Law. The corpus of Jesus and the stations of the cross come from the chapel on the Brighton campus that O'Malley sold to Boston College; and a gilded icon of Mary comes from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
But the most striking object in the room is the tabernacle (picture above), which is a gold-and-silver plated dove, made in Spain, that is suspended from the ceiling above the altar. The tabernacle, also called a Eucharistic pyx, is used for storage of consecrated bread. The dove is a symbol for the Holy Spirit; the practice of suspending a pyx over the altar, although unusual today, dates back to early Christian history.
O'Malley noted that the dove appears repeatedly in Scriptures, including as Noah's scout in the Hebrew Bible, and several times in the New Testament. (O'Malley also compared the Catholic Church itself to Noah's Ark, saying "the church is a floating zoo -- a motley crew -- some are mutinous, others are seasick, but the great moment of joy comes when the dove appears over the waters.")
The architect, Razoyk, told me that the room presented numerous challenges as a potential chapel because of its flat ceilings, strip glass windows facing onto a parking lot, and generic setting. Razoyk, of Architectural Design Concepts in North Andover, said that although the room is essentially a wide, shallow rectangle, he tried to design the space to wrap around the altar, so that the curve of the 150 seats, the back wall, and the ceiling pattern help focus worshipers on that table as the center of their attention.
The designers installed an oval shaped ceiling over the altar, lit from below in the pattern of a starburst, in an effort to create the illusion of greater height. And on the exterior wall, to block out the parking lot without preventing the entrance of sunlight, the designers created a second wall of obscure glass that sets off the embedded stained glass windows.
The altar and the ambo are made from cherry, and inlaid with Carpathian elm burl, which, Razoyk said, is a byproduct of Dutch Elm disease and is supposed to remind worshipers of their own imperfections. The contemporary brass pulls on the chapel's glass entry doors are in the shape of a cross.
One other interesting design feature: the crucifix behind the altar is backlit with energy-efficient LED lights that are supposed to change color according to the liturgical season -- green, violet, white and red. Yesterday, at least to my eyes, the light appeared blue, which Razoyk said was an artifact of the bulbs.
The archdiocese declined yesterday to say how much the chapel construction cost. Spokesman Terrence C. Donilon said the archdiocese will disclose the costs of renovating the Braintree office building as part of its annual financial report. The costs are largely being paid with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of most of the Brighton campus to Boston College.
(Photos by Jonathan Wiggs of the Globe staff.)