Weekly Photo Challenge: (Sacred) Objects

For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings.–Joan Miro

Several months ago, I had the privilege of touring the Vilna Shul in the Beacon Hill section of Boston.  Once inside its doors, the visitor steps back in time to the late 1800’s when immigrants from Vilna, Lithuania created a sacred space, which reflected the refined artistic sensibilities and frugality of their homelands.  Decorations, created by the congregants, are simple, such as this pastel mural.   Skylights illuminate the temple and provide warmth in the winter at no added cost.

Wall mural, Vilna Shul

Wall mural, Vilna Shul

The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh.
Lucian Freud

For decades, the temple was the locus of the Jewish community in the West End of Boston, where thousands of families worshiped, celebrated births and marriages and cried when loved ones died.   I could almost see the congregants murmuring prayers and chatting in the pews.  The worn and faded wooden benches are testaments to their devotion.

Prayerbook, the Vilna Shul, Boston

Prayerbook, the Vilna Shul, Boston

Their ghosts linger in this space.  Even this simple menorah calls to mind a beloved family member.
Menorah, Vilna Shul

Menorah, Vilna Shul

Abandoned for decades, the building is tattered and in need of repair.  In this photo, an original light fixture is highlighted against a peeling wall fresco.  In recent years, Jewish community activists have re-opened the shul’s doors, and have undertaken an ambitious restoration project.  The temple now houses an education center, conducts tours, and offers space for worshipers to gather.

Light fixture and peeling walls, Vilna Shul

Light fixture and peeling walls, Vilna Shul

I came to the temple to do research for my next novel, but this serene and tattered place ended up capturing my imagination.   Our docent, Mark Nystedt, spent over an hour with us, sharing his knowledge of the temple and Boston history.   For more information or to plan a visit, click on The Vilna Shul link.  If you go, let me know.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For more visual inspiration on this week’s theme, click on the links below:

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18 replies »

  1. Thank you for sharing, part of my grandma family comes from Boston and therefore from east Europe… I saw some from Vilna in our family tree… Try to visit next time we are in the us


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