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BEVERLY -- The Church has long understood the importance of art to attract and inspire. So, while artists and craft vendors sold their work in booths and tents during Beverly's annual Arts Fest Aug. 21, a different kind of art exhibition was taking place inside St. Mary Star of the Sea Church.
Throughout the Arts Fest, volunteers outside the towering red church building situated in the middle of the closed-off section of Cabot Street let people know that the church was open and they were available to answer questions. They also offered packets of information about the church's history and artwork. Using these handouts, visitors could conduct self-guided tours, taking as much time as they wanted to look at the paintings, relief sculptures, and stained-glass windows.
"You never know what might grab someone," longtime parishioner Ellen Hutchinson said. She helped organize the volunteers for the open house and was present throughout most of the Arts Fest, though she left at one point to print more copies of the parish history.
The church was built in the Romanesque-Revival style, and its artwork tends to focus on its patroness, Our Lady Star of the Sea, and the nautical imagery associated with that title. One visitor commented that the church looks unassuming on the outside, a contrast with the amount and quality of decoration inside.
The sunshine during the Arts Fest illuminated the stained-glass windows depicting events in the life of the Blessed Mother. Created by Mayer and Company of Bavaria in 1908, each window can inspire meditation on a biblical or traditional event. One volunteer pointed out that within each window, intricate details convey time, place, and movement. The Flight to Egypt window, for example, shows two different types of trees in its panes to indicate the Holy Family's journey. In the Wedding at Cana window, the gradient of color in the glass shows the clear-colored water turning to red wine as it is poured out.
In the sanctuary, the ambo is carved with symbols of the four Gospel writers. Five murals painted on the apse depict biblical scenes of sacrifice, overlooking the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Mass takes place. And in the choir loft, above the 1908 Hook and Hastings organ, stained-glass windows show three patrons of music, the psalmist King David, St. Cecilia, and St. Gregory.
Some visitors who came in during the Arts Fest had grown up in Beverly but never entered the church until that day. Some had been inside once or twice for events like weddings or funerals. One group of visitors consisted of mothers and toddlers who are going to be in a wedding and wanted to familiarize the children with the church.
"Everybody expresses how beautiful the church is, and of course beauty raises the heart and mind to God, so we're hopeful that maybe this will attract somebody who's been away for a while," Hutchinson said.
The greeters' handouts included the Mass schedule for the Beverly Catholic Collaborative, which includes St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, St. John the Evangelist Parish in North Beverly, and St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Beverly Farms. The packets also explained the liturgical significance of different features of the church, such as the use of holy water and the central location of the altar.
Just inside the church, a short video was projected on a screen and played on loop during the open house. In the video, parishioners as well as past and present staff members shared what they love about St. Mary's, from the inspiring artwork to the community spirit.
In addition to information about the church and the parish, the volunteers also offered pins commemorating 150 years of Catholic faith in Beverly. The actual anniversary was in 2020, but the celebration had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Evangeline Egizi, a member of St. Mary's choir and the parish pastoral committee, said it was "timely" that they opened the church doors during the Arts Fest this year, as they celebrate 150 years as a parish.
"St. Mary's Church is such a prominent, regal structure, right in the middle of downtown Beverly, and it was fitting that we welcomed so many to see our magnificent church," she said.
The Arts Fest began at 10 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. By the end of the day, Hutchinson and the other greeters had counted 477 people who came into St. Mary Star of the Sea Church.
"You never know who might come in here and decide to come back," Hutchinson said.