J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Cherubum and Seraphim at Old North Church

As an Anglican church, the Old North Church (formally Christ Church, Boston) was more flashily decorated than the town’s Congregationalist meetinghouses.

There are, for example, four hand-carved angels mounted on the gallery railing. Tom Dietzel recently shared a four-part online essay about them.

Those statues are thought to have been made in what is now Belgium in the early 1600s. In 1746 they were shipped across the Atlantic to a French territory—it’s not clear where. Unfortunately for the church expecting to receive those angels, that was during what British colonists called King George’s War. A Boston-based privateer named the Queen of Hungary captured the French merchant ship carrying the figures.

The captain of that privateer was a man from the Isle of Jersey named Thomas James Gruchy. He had settled in Boston and purchased a pew in Christ Church five years before. Returning to his home port considerably better off for his trouble, Gruchy agreed with five of his partners to give their church the angels and two “glass branches” or chandeliers (discussed here).

Gruchy returned to his busy mercantile career but appears to have suffered reverses in the 1750s. By 1759 he and his family had left Boston for good, and it’s not clear where he settled next.

Capt. Gruchy’s angels weren’t the only heavenly decoration at Old North. This winter the church was able to commission a historic paint analysis that peeked below its current decor, established in 1912 based on that era’s thoughts of what a colonial church should look like.

As part of that work, Brian Powell and Melissa McGrew of Building Conservation Associates exposed the painted head of a cherub they date to 1727. What’s more, they believe there are twenty more cherubs’ heads elsewhere under the paint. Powell will speak about that find and other details of the church’s eighteenth-century interior in a free public lecture on Wednesday, 11 May.

“Uncovering Cherubs: New Discoveries at Old North Church” is scheduled to start at 6:30 P.M. Afterwards the Boston Preservation Alliance Young Advisors will host “a facilitated discussion about the role preservation plays in interpretation at historic sites.” The event is free, but advance registration is required.

(Funding for the paint study and/or the lecture came from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Freedom Trail Foundation, the National Park Service, and the Marr Scaffolding Company.)


Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

Talk about poetic justice--the privateer vessel which captured the carved figures now in Old North bore the contemporary moniker for Austro-Hungarian Empress-Queen Maria Theresa--"The Queen of Hungary"--whose contested right to rule was the basis of "King George's" or the Austrian Succession War."

(Our common enemy at the time, the French, were part of the coalition trying to unseat her.)

J. L. Bell said...

I recently saw another example of an American privateer named after a distant ally in a worldwide war. Perhaps a way of giving more legitimacy to their attacks on enemy merchant ships?