From the Collections: Images of the Mother Church Extension

May 26, 2021

Construction of The Mother Church Extension in 1905

Construction of The Mother Church Extension, December 19, 1905. Photographer unknown. P08109.


On June 10, 1906, The Mother Church Extension opened its doors, greeting thousands of visitors in Boston, Massachusetts. Designed to accommodate the rapidly growing Christian Science movement, the new edifice took about two years to construct.

The Library has a number of related images in its collections. Ezra Reid, a Boston-based photographer and Christian Scientist, was present to document the occasion. He took three of the photographs in this article. Reid had become a Mother Church member on January 4, 1896, and would maintain that affiliation until his passing in 1933. The Mary Baker Eddy Library has a number of his photographs in its Historic Photographs Collection, including some that appear in this article.


Christian Scientists attended church services on Dedication Day, June 10, 1906

Thousands of Christian Scientists attended church services on Dedication Day, June 10, 1906. In addition to being a great document of the crowd, this image also gives a wonderful glimpse of the conveyances and fashions of the time. The “for sale” sign (bottom left) is on the vacant lot that is now the location of the Church Plaza reflecting pool. Photo by Ezra W. Reid. P08252.


A need to expand

By the early 1900s, the congregation of the Original Mother Church, which had opened in 1894, had grown. Mary Baker Eddy and the Christian Science Board of Directors recognized the need for a larger church building, to serve both the Boston congregation and those from outside the city who gathered for Communion services and Annual Meetings. Christian Science lecturer Judge William G. Ewing articulated this during the 1902 Annual Meeting:

Now I am sure that I have but expressed the universal voice of Christian Scientists, that there should be something done, and done immediately, to make reasonable accommodation for the regular business of the Christian Science Church, and I believe really, with my faint knowledge of arithmetic and the relationship of figures, that a church of twenty-four thousand members should have a seating capacity of more than nine hundred, if they are all to get in.1


Original Edifice of The Mother Church, 1894

Constructed in 1894, the Original Mother Church had become too small by the early 1900s to accommodate all who wished to attend Christian Science services and other church events. Circa 1894–1904. Photo by Ezra W. Reid. P07932.


A commitment to the work

On June 18, 1902, attendees of the Annual Meeting of The Mother Church unanimously pledged to raise $2 million, for the purpose of constructing a new church edifice.2 The goal was to purchase a plot of land and construct a new church capable of seating “four or five thousand persons.”3

A Building Fund was established, with regular notices published in The Christian Science Journal encouraging members to donate.4 Over the next two years, contributions came in steadily. This allowed for the completion of the construction without necessitating any loans or mortgages.5


The Original Mother Church with the adjacent construction site, circa 1903

The Original Mother Church with the adjacent construction site, circa 1903. Photo by Charles H. Welch. P08100.


By March 1903, the Directors had purchased land adjacent to the Original church edifice,6 and work began in October to clear the plot.7 The cornerstone was laid in the foundation on July 16, 1904. After this, construction began in earnest.8


A postcard depicting the progress of construction on The Mother Church Extension in 1905

This postcard depicted the progress of construction on The Mother Church Extension, May 4, 1905. Photographer unknown. P08190.


A herculean effort

The pace of work increased significantly over the coming months. Coordinating a construction effort of this magnitude was a considerable undertaking. In her 1939 book The Mother Church Extension, Margaret Williamson described how the work needed careful choreography, in order to remain on schedule and be completed efficiently. Noting that “there were [in 1905] fifteen different trades represented by the army of workmen,” she continued:

The amazing thing was that, though all these kinds of work were in progress at the same time, the men did not obstruct each other’s activities in the least. In order that not a single hour of the twenty-four should be lost, for a part of the period during which the structure was building the men worked in three shifts of eight hours each. It having been decided to dedicate the church in June 1906, from August of 1905 the speed at which the work progressed was accelerated. Days, even hours, were reckoned with, calculations made meticulously, ingenuity and energy exercised without stint; and unremitting supervision of all work was maintained by the office of the architect.

From early in February of 1906, the interior became the scene of almost unbelievable activity. Large quantities of material, fabricated in many places, were being brought together by workmen of many trades; and they increased daily. An eyewitness described the auditorium of the future as a veritable forest of wooden supports, crossing and recrossing to form the various stagings for the convenience of the workmen…. It is a wonder how the workmen themselves manage to move about through the maze.”9


Construction of The Mother Church Extension in 1905

Construction of The Mother Church Extension, December 19, 1905. Thanks to contributions from Church members, the new edifice was completed and dedicated less than six months later. The Extension dome was built with an inner and outer dome, supported by an iron framework, similar in design to the dome of the United States Capitol, which had been completed in 1866. Photographer unknown. P08109.


A happy day in June

When the Mother Church Extension opened on June 10, 1906, thousands of people gathered in Boston to attend the communion and dedication services. Six separate, identical services were held throughout the day to welcome and accommodate all who came.10

Eddy shared a dedication message. Read at each service by William D. McCrackan, the Church’s First Reader, it included these words:

The modest edifice of The Mother Church of Christ, Scientist, began with the cross; its excelsior extension is the crown…. Its crowning ultimate rises to a mental monument, a superstructure high above the work of men’s hands, even the outcome of their hearts, giving to the material a spiritual significance — the speed, beauty, and achievements of goodness.11

The Christian Science Sentinel published an extensive account, describing the day’s events in its June 16, 1906, issue. This observation from the Boston Herald was included: “It was a sight which no one who saw it will ever be able to forget…. There was something emanating from the thousands who worshiped under the dome of the great edifice whose formal opening they had gathered to observe, that appealed to and fired the imagination.”12


The auditorium of the new church building in 1906

The auditorium of the new church building was capable of seating several thousand people. The pipes for the original organ are visible behind the Readers’ platform. This image was taken in 1906. Photograph by Ezra W. Reid. P08437.


Two days after the dedication, The Mother Church held its 1906 Annual Meeting in the new Extension. Treasurer Stephen A. Chase reported that the Building Fund had covered all expenses related to its construction and that there was no outstanding debt related to the project.13

The Sentinel published concluding comments from the meeting. Among them were these, from Clerk William B. Johnnson. They nicely sum up what the construction of The Mother Church Extension represented for Christian Scientists at the time: “The majesty and the dignity of this church edifice not only shows the growth of this Cause, but proclaims the trust, the willingness of those who have contributed to the erection of these mighty walls.”14


To read about the history of the organ in The Mother Church Extension, and the longest-serving organist to play there, read a Women of History article on Ruth Barrett Phelps.

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  1. “The Annual Meeting,” Christian Science Sentinel, 26 June 1902, 689.
  2. See “The Annual Meeting,” Sentinel, 26 June 1902, 688–691.
  3. “The Annual Meeting,” Sentinel, 689.
  4. “Building Fund of The Mother Church,” The Christian Science Journal, September 1902, 342.
  5. “Notice to the Contributors to the Building Fund,” Sentinel, 16 June 1906, 660.
  6. “Real Estate,” The Boston Globe, 23 March 1903, 5.
  7. Charles C. Coveney, “The Designing and Building of The Mother Church Extension,” 11 January 1934, Reminiscence, 37.
  8. “The Corner-Stone Laid,” The Christian Science Journal, August 1904, 272.
  9. Joseph Armstrong and Margaret Williamson, Building of The Mother Church (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1980, 2009), 126.
  10. “The Communion Service and Dedication,” Sentinel, 16 June 1906, 660.
  11. Mary Baker Eddy, “‘Choose Ye,’” The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany (Cambridge: The University Press, 1913), 6.
  12. “The Communion Service and Dedication,” Sentinel, 16 June 1906, 660.
  13. “The Annual Meeting,” Sentinel, 23 June 1906, 676.
  14. “The Annual Meeting,” Sentinel, 23 June 1906, 679.