St. Stephen's Church
St. Stephen's church

Date: 1804
Architect: Charles Bulfinch

The view of St. Stephen's church through the trees at the end of Paul Revere Mall is one of the most indelible in Boston's North End.

Early American architect Charles Bulfinch rooted his design firmly in the Federal, or Neo-Palladian style of the time. Flattened columns known as pilasters subdive the entry facade vertically, while cornices lined with teethlike dentils demarcate the horizontal spans. The structure steps upward from a broad base to an exquisite cupola festooned with relief sculptures on all four faces. Curved gables and urns fill the angles between the levels.

St. Stephen's is delightfully modest, especially for a church. There is no pediment looming solemnly above the entrance. Instead, Bulfinch put a Palladian window and a lunette above the doorway, an arrangement also seen at the first Harrison Gray Otis house he designed on Boston's Beacon Hill (1796).

The church — originally Congregationalist, now Roman Catholic — once counted Paul Revere among its members. Revere made the bell that originally hung in the belfry, although the one in place today was likely recast at a later date. Fires damaged the church in 1897 and 1929. In 1965, it was restored to Bulfinch's original specifications under the supervision of his great grandson. An older photo shows the much darker profile the church presented before the restoration. .

St. Stephen's is one of five churches that Bulfinch designed in his lifetime. Only one other still stands: the First Church of Christ in the small town of Lancaster, an hour's drive west of Boston. Completed around 1816, it features an outsized cupola and a more severely classical face. A comparison of the two churches underscores Bulfinch's great range as an architect.