'Mapparium' anniversary celebrated

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

The world's only three-story stained glass walk-in globe celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. In honor of the occasion, an exhibit will open Thursday in Boston at the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity. The Christian Science Publishing Society building, which houses the library, also contains the main offices of this newspaper.

The Mapparium, a coined word from the Latin words mappa (map) and arium (a place for) was inspired by a large spinning globe in the lobby of the New York Daily News.

Architect Chester Lindsay Churchill had been commissioned to design The Christian Science Publishing Society. He thought that a globe would be a great way to express the outreach of the Christian Science church and the international scope of the Monitor, according to Judy Huenneke, senior researcher for the Mary Baker Eddy Library. It has become a Boston landmark.

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Architecture critic Jane Holtz Kay, author of "Asphalt Nation," says "It's one of my favorite places, actually. There's just something about being wrapped up in the world, that beautiful cobalt blue.... You can step out of it at any moment, but at the same time, you're contained by it."

Back in 1935, Churchill decided to turn the globe inside out. He didn't like the way everything moves away from you as you look at a globe. Mathematically, though, representing the world on the inside of a sphere was the same as putting it on the outside. He began to contemplate a globe people could stand inside.

The Mapparium is 30 feet in diameter, with 608 panes of stained glass. Longitude and latitude lines are represented by a network of bronze. A bridge of clear glass spans the interior. Each stained-glass panel was specially shaped to fit its unique position in the frame.

Each panel began as a clear sheet of glass that was shaped according to its position on the grid. Using a 1935 Rand McNally world map, artists created overlays. Vivid color was added by spraying on powdered-glass mixtures. Then the panes were fired in a kiln at 1,350 degrees F.

Four years later, the question of updating the boundaries on the Mapparium first arose. But the world was still changing rapidly, so it was decided to leave it alone. When the question of updating it came up again in 1950, the cost of doing so was thought to be too high. In 1966, The Christian Science Publishing Society decided that the Mapparium was a work of art and didn't need updating.

In 1998, the Mapparium began a two-year renovation to add new lighting and a video screen. It attracts 80,000 to 100,000 visitors annually.

The anniversary exhibit includes original blueprints of the Mapparium, historical and current world maps, as well as documents written by architect Churchill.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 6, 2006.

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