Heavenly Music and the Universalist Church
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Submitted by Nick Malfroy on Friday, October 19th, 2012 at 8:04 PM
153 years ago when the congregation of the Universalist Church remodeled their building and added a steeple, they topped it off with a weathervane. They chose a scroll vane, which was a popular, readily available and not too expensive style of weathervane. The particular vane chosen featured a lyre and a star as well as delicate scroll work.
Scroll vanes were very popular in the 19th Century. Designers added classical themes to the basic banner shaped weathervane. Among the most popular designs was the lyre. Decorative arts expert Myrna Kaye, in her book Yankee Weathervanes (E.P. Dutton& Co., Inc. 1975) says, “A classical symbol of song, a mythological instrument of the wind, the lyre was ideal as a church weathervane, a worthy competitor in heavenly music making to Gabriel’s horn.” (Page 75). Scroll vanes featuring lyres were common on typical New England-style churches. Ms. Kaye goes on to say, “Lyre-shaped vanes so often top this style of church that they are ‘you know, a church weathervane.’”. (Page 77).
The Lyre Scroll weathervane chosen by the church in 1859 for the building newly remodeled to resemble a typical New England church proved to be a good choice. It remained on the building for nearly 150 years, despite fires and lightning strikes that damaged the steeple.
In July 1900 downtown Wakefield was the site of a major fire which began in a building called “The Old Rink Building” located behind 390 Main Street. The fire spread as far as the church, where it damaged both the steeple and the roof. It was reported that the weathervane “fell on the lawn when the top of the steeple burned off.” The church steeple also suffered damage from lightning strikes at various times in its history, including successive hits in 1997 and 1998. The weathervane survived each time.
For many years in the mid twentieth century, the church was fortunate to be able to rely on local steeplejack Laurie Young to make any necessary steeple repairs. The accompanying undated photograph states that the weathervane “was down for regilding by Laurie Young.”
In October 2008 the weathervane was taken down when the steeple, by then noticeably tilting, was removed as a safety precaution. The weathervane is currently being stored at the church in anticipation of being reinstalled when a new top is placed on the currently truncated tower. The 1859 scroll weathervane featuring a lyre and a star with its connotation of heavenly music is as suitable a choice for the Unitarian Universalist church in the 21st Century as it was for the Universalist Society in the 19th Century.
Friday, October 19, 2012 - 8:00pm