BOSTON — TOMORROW marks the 100th anniversary of an event that had a profound effect on Boston's physical and religious landscape: the laying of the cornerstone of The First Church of Christ, Scientist.
The building of this church, now known by Christian Scientists and others as The Mother Church, marked the emergence of Christian Science as an established denomination, rather than the passing Boston fad many of its opponents hoped it would be.
Christian Science traces its beginnings to 1866, the year its founder, Mary Baker Eddy (then Mary Patterson), was healed by prayer of serious internal injuries after a fall on the ice in Swampscott, Mass. Mrs. Eddy, a Congregationalist who had been searching for years for an explanation of Jesus' healings recorded in the Bible, considered this experience the falling apple that led her to the discovery of the rules - or ``Science'' - of spiritual healing. She recorded her revelation in her major work, ``Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,'' in 1875. The book has since sold about 9 million copies.
AFTER the cornerstone was laid, contractors and church members working together finished the Romanesque edifice - what Mrs. Eddy termed ``our prayer in stone'' - on Dec. 31, 1894. Members contributed the entire $200,000 for the construction, and the church was dedicated free of debt on Sunday, Jan. 6, 1895. Four repeat services were held, and more than 6,000 people attended.
Just before the church was completed, Mrs. Eddy made another move that gave a unique character to her church: On Dec. 19, 1894, she ordained the Bible and Science and Health as ``pastor'' for the denomination, replacing personal preaching. Citations from these books are studied by Christian Scientists around the world the week before the ``lesson-sermon'' is read by two lay readers in each Christian Science church.
The original Mother Church today is dwarfed by the 1906 Italo-Byzantine ``extension'' attached to it, but is still the focal point of the Christian Science Center that fills several blocks in Boston's Back Bay. A chime concert on the church's 18-bell carillon from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow, May 21, will commemorate the laying of the cornerstone.