Church of the Redeemer, Provincetown Massachusetts

Date added: November 2, 2009 Categories: Massachusetts Church Greek Revival

The First Universalist Church is the second home of the Universalist parish founded in Provincetown in 1829. The church was begun in 1847 and, according to local sources, is the oldest building on the Lower Cape still in its original state and being used for its original purpose. The most significant features of the church are its elaborate three-stage tower, often (though incorrectly) called the "Christopher Wren Tower," and the trompe d'oeil paintings which decorate its ceilings and walls.

The Universalist Church was built by ship's carpenters under the supervision of Benjamin Hallet of Barnstable. The immediate model for the building, with the exception of the tower, was a small church constructed in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1845. Only the entrance and auditorium of the Provincetown Church were finished in 1847; the remaining sections of the building were not completed until the 1860s.

The trompe d'oeil paintings of the auditorium are the work of a young German artist, Carl Wendte. Born in Verden, Hanover, in 1820, Wendte studied art in Sienna, Italy, and became expert in the use of fresco and tempera. In 1841, Wendte and his wife came to America and settled in Boston. The painter's reputation gradually grew and his murals appeared in a number of New England churches. Wendte's work in the Universalist Church was done in egg tempera and shows the influence of his study of Italian churches. After leaving Provincetown, Wendte accepted a commission for a church in Boston; while working there he was stricken with pneumonia and died in 1848, at the age of 28.

The tracker organ, which was installed in the First Universalist Church in 1850, is the oldest on Cape Cod. Its carved wooden pilasters framing the organ pipes are copies of the pilasters which appear in Wendte's murals. The original chandelier still hangs in the church and has globes, fonts and prisms of Sandwich Glass.