Superior court rules on steeple for new temple in Boston

BELMONT, Mass. — A recent Superior Court ruling in Boston limiting the height of the steeple to be placed atop the Boston Massachusetts Temple has drawn the attention of leaders of churches and historians in the area who say that steeples are a symbol of the religious freedoms espoused by the settlers of New England. Steeples, they say, should transcend secular zoning laws.

"Try to imagine Boston history without the belfry of the Old North Church, where patriots hung two signal lanterns on April 8, 1775, warning that British troops were descending upon Lexington and Concord," read a copyrighted article in the Boston Globe that ran on the metro page of the Feb. 24 edition.

The Globe report highlighted the irony of the court decision by pointing out that the very Puritans who came to America seeking religious freedoms are the same ones who "built these towering spires as the most tangible, solid reminders that their community life centered on the church and that they believed all eyes should point heavenward."

The latest discussion over the Boston temple stems from a lawsuit filed by a few residents living in an upscale community of $500,000 homes located about seven miles outside Boston on Route 2. The lawsuit contends that the steeple — when atop the 58-foot high building would be 81 feet above ground at its highest point — would exceed the 72-foot height allowed by zoning law. The plaintiffs feared the steeple would cast shadows on their homes and dominate the skyline, it was reported.

A Middlesex Superior Court judge agreed. In a ruling Feb. 22, Judge Elizabeth Fahey stated, "While a spire might have inspirational value and may embody the Mormon value of ascendancy toward heaven, that is not a matter of religious doctrine and is not in any way related to the religious use of the temple."

The Rev. James Field, director of the Office for Worship at the Archdiocese of Boston, was quoted as saying brick and mortar are part of theology. "There's a meaning in the form," he said.

The Rev. Jeffrey P. Johnson of First Congregational Church in Milton, Mass., said in the Globe article that buildings reflect the values of society. He noted "how, in ancient times, the tallest building in any city was always the house of worship. Later it was the palace, and the height symbolized political power. The tallest buildings today are our financial institutions, which might say something about what we value."

Steeples along the Boston skyline have held such a prominence in Boston history that Historic Boston Inc., an association for the preservation of history, has raised more than $1 million to repair historic churches and illuminate their steeples, the article explained.

"We've found that steeples, towers, and domes are symbols of community, symbols of continuity, and [people agree] they should be preserved for that reason," said Stanley Smith, executive director of Historic Boston Inc., as quoted in the Globe article.

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