The Art and Architecture of St. Ignatius Church

Information about St. Ignatius Parish

This is an electronic adaptation of Mr. Jack Frost's monograph "The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola." The original would appear to have been published some time in the 1950's and while some renovations have been done, in keeping with the liturgical changes that took place after Vatican II, the church is essentially the same as when Frost wrote his wonderful book describing the art and architecture of our parish. In adapting the book from the printed page to an on-line , I have attempted to follow the original as closely as possible (within the constraints imposed by html). In particular, the text is identical to the original (except for the inevitable spelling mistakes, which are entirely my fault).  -JS

"Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam"


History of the Parish of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Inscription on Wall in Vestibule of Church
November 7, 1926
Parish of Saint Ignatius of Loyola founded and placed under the care of the Jesuit Fathers residing at Boston College. Religious services held in the Chapel of Saint Mary and in the Library Auditorium of Boston College.
January 3, 1940
Plans for a new parish church begun.
November 13, 1947
Ground broken for new church.
July 31, 1948
Cornerstone laid.
July 31, 1949
Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola dedicated.

Cornerstone of Church, A.D. 1948

Saint Ignatius Church, dedicated to the founder of the Society of Jesus, is located at the corner of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The church, as striking example of modern Gothic architecture, has a setting of lawns bordered by an evergreen hedge on the Commonwealth Avenue side (the north side) and a sweeping lawn with ancient English elms on the Reservoir side (the south side).

Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

The interior of the church was designed in the form of a cross: the sanctuary being the head of the cross, the two transepts being the arms of the cross, and the nave being the body of the cross. The nave of the church has a seating capacity of nine hundred and fifty of the faithful. At the far end of the nave is a choir loft which seats another fifty people. Within the sanctuary are stalls for sixteen of the clergy. Besides the main altar, there are two side altars. One of these, on the Gospel side, is dedicated to Our Blessed Mother; and the other, on the Epistle side, is dedicated to Saint Joseph.

Adorning the Entrances

Our Lord, the Good Shepherd

The main entrance of Saint Ignatius Church is decorated above with sculptured Indiana limestone. Directly over the doors is a figure of Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, with outstretched hands welcoming the faithful. On either side of Our Lord is an angel on bended knee, holding a lighted candle. In the arch which encloses this scene are many other angels adoring Our Lord. Above the arch is the seal of Pope Pius XII on the left, and the seal of Cardinal Cushing on the right. In the ornamented border at the top is inscribed "IHS," the first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus.

Statue of Saint Jude

The limestone statue of Saint Jude, one of the Twelve Apostles, is located above the entrance on the south side. Jude is shown holding a book in his left hand and a club in his right hand. The Statue of Saint Maria Goretti book symbolizes his Epistle; the club, his martyrdom, for it was with such an instrument that he was beaten to death.

The statue of Saint Maria Goretti, the young Italian girl who died a martyr's death at the age of twelve, is located above the north side entrance. Here Maria is pictured in her First Communion dress. In her hands she is carrying a long lighted candle, a traditional part of the First Communion ceremonies in Italy.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Life History of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Born at the castle of Loyola in Guipiscoa, today a part of Spain.
Entered the army to take up a military career.
Wounded in the battle of Pampeluna. Decided during his convalescence to dedicate his life to the service of God.
Began The Spiritual Exercises in a cave near Manresa.
Ordained a priest.
Founded the Society of Jesus.
Died in Rome.
Canonized by Pope Gregory XV.

The statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, located above the main entrance to the church, is made of Indiana limestone. In his hands Ignatius holds his famous book, The Spiritual Exercises, on which is inscribed the motto of the Society of Jesus, "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" ("for the Greater Glory of God").

Saint Francis Xavier

Life History of Saint Francis Xavier

Born of a noble family of Navarre, In what is now Spain.
Enrolled at the University of Paris where he later met Ignatius.
Statue of Saint Francis Xavier
Began his studies for the priesthood.
Ordained a priest.
Appointed to evangelize the Indies.
Preached the word of God to the people of the Far East.
Died on the Island of Sancian, China.
Canonized by Pope Gregory XV

The statue of Saint Francis Xavier, located above the main entrance to the church, is made of the same Indiana limestone as the statue of Saint Ignatius. This statue shows Xavier dressed in his priestly robes, holding a crucifix in his left hand and a shell in his right hand. The shell, used in pouring the baptismal waters, represents the thousands of baptisms he performed, and the crucifix symbolizes his missionary work.

There are five entrances to the Church of Saint Ignatius. Besides the main entrance, which faces east, there are two north side and two south side entrances. The doors, all made of solid West Virginia oak, were specially designed for the church. In the center of each door is a small stained glass window on which is depicted a cross of green and ruby glass. The five pieces of ruby glass in each cross represent the five wounds of Our Lord. Above each glass door is a limestone archway, and beneath each arch is an appropriate carving. The steps leading into the church are all of Chelmsford granite

Entrance on South Side of Church

Three of the entrances have double doors: the main entrance, and one each on the north and south sides of the church. On the opposite page is a sketch of the south side entrance. It shows the limestone archway beneath which is pictured Saint Joseph holding the Christ Child in one hand and in the other, a lily. Under the arch on the north side, Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, is depicted; and beneath the main entrance arch, Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, is shown.

The remaining two entrances, one on the north side and one on the south side, are single doors. Beneath the limestone arch on the north side (sketched on the last page of this book), is engraved the coat of arms of the House of Loyola. This coat of arms, depicting two wolves being fed from a feeding pot between them, symbolizes the generosity of the family of Ignatius who fed at their door even the hungry animals. Under the arch on the south side the Lamb of God is shown carrying the banner of the Resurrection. Above the lamb are the words, "Ecce Agnus Dei" ("Behold the Lamb of God").

Main Altar of Saint Ignatius Church

The main altar is elevated by two tiers of steps, thus making it easily possible for all in the body of the church to view the altar. The altar and the altar steps are made of a warm ivory-toned marble from Botticino, Italy. Carved on the front panel of the altar and brought out in gold leaf is a Christogram with the Greek letters chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ), the first two letters of the name of Christ, superimposed. To the left and right of the chi rho are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha (Α) and omega (Ω), symbolizing the eternity of God. Toward the outer edges of this front panel is a carved decoration of lilies, also accentuated with gold leaf. The tabernacle door and the altar candlesticks are of bronze and were designed specially for this church. Embossed on the tabernacle door is a chalice with a host, and on the latter is inscribed the familiar "IHS".

The reredos, that is, the screen, behind the main altar is a massive, richly carved structure of fine-grained West Virginia oak. On it the Crucifixion is depicted. Within the central panel the life-size corpus of Christ is made of white bass wood. The smaller statues of Our Lady and of Saint John are carved from coarse-grained new England oak. The border of the central panel is carved to resemble the branches of the grape, symbolizing our union with Christ who said, "I am the vine; you are the branches." Surmounting the canopy above the crucifix is the symbol of the papacy, the tiara with crossed keys.

This sketch depicts the sanctuary at Christmas, decorated with the traditional poinsettias.

Just above the reredos of the high altar is a large rose window of limestone tracery. The window, since it is the first to strike the eye as one comes in through the main entrance, is appropriately dedicated to the Holy The Rose Window Trinity. In the center of the window is seen an equilateral triangle, the traditional symbol of the three distinct yet co-equal Persons in the one divine nature. At the apex of the triangle is shown a hand, symbolic of the creative poser of God the Father, the first Person of the Trinity. Below the hand is a dove, symbol of the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Trinity. Just under the head of the dove and encircled in a circle is a cross, the standard of Jesus Christ, our divine Savior and the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Also seen in the center of the window are three nails reminding us of our Lord's death on the Cross. Each nail is tipped with a piece of ruby colored glass signifying the blood which Christ shed for us. Finally, within the tracery, flames, another symbol of the Holy Ghost, are depicted.

On either side of the sanctuary is a set of three windows. In a band of ornament above each set of windows, carved and accented with gold leaf, is the motto of the Jesuit Order, "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam."

Windows on Epistle Side of Sanctuary

The three windows on the Epistle side of the altar recall the three sacrifices of the Old Testament that prefigured the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The window nearest the altar portrays the Patriarch Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God's command. Here, too, is picture the angle divinely sent to stay the hand of Abraham, since God was only testing Abraham's willingness to obey. The center window of the group presents the sacrifice of Melchisedech, the first priest mentioned in the Bible to offer bread and wine. The last window on this side depicts the slaying of the Paschal Lamb. in the background of this window is seen a family seated at the table while the father is painting the doorpost with the blood of the lamb to escape the avenging hand of God.

Windows on Gospel Side of Sanctuary

The first window on the Gospel side of the altar presents Moses viewing the descent of the manna which God sent from heaven to feed the Israelites. The middle window shows Christ blessing the bread at the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The third window depicts the disciples at the supper table at Emmaus when the recognized Our Lord in the breaking of the bread.


Crosses of the World

Crosses of the World

Along the nave of the church where the oak ceiling meets the side walls are twenty-eight crosses of the world. These crosses are in the various ecclesiastical colors of red, blue, green, and white. Each cross is bordered by a thin band of gold leaf and is set on a walnut shield. Sketched here on the left hand page are the crosses of the Epistle side of the nave going from the main altar towards the choir loft (numbers 1 to 14). On the right hand page are the crosses along the Gospel side going from the altar end of the nave towards the choir loft (numbers 15 to 28).

The altar of Our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven, is made from a combination of marbles from Botticino and Verona in Italy. The front panel is of Verona sanguine, a marble distinctive, as its name indicates, for the red vein running through it. Inscribed on the panel and brought out in gold leaf are the words "Salve Regina" ("Hail, Queen"). Between the words is a rose, a frequent symbol of Our Lady, carved in Gothic style.

Directly behind and above the altar is a large oak panel on which is a carved figure of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. Above her head two angels hold a crown, symbol of her queenship; on either side other angles stand reverencing her and hymning her praises; at her feet still more angles hold a scroll on which are the words "Ave Maria" ("Hail Mary"). At the lower corner of the panel two of the Joyful Mysteries of the life of Mary are depicted. On the left is the Annunciation,—Mary and the angel Gabriel; on the right, the Visitation,—Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.

The Side Altar Dedicated to Saint Joseph

Except for its striking panel of Belgian black marble with its unique gold vein running through it, Saint Joseph's altar is fashioned from the same type of ivory-toned marble as was used for the main altar. Inscribed on the front panel and brought out in gold leaf are the words, "Sanctus Josephus" ("Saint Joseph"). Between the words is engraved a lily, symbol of the purity of Joseph.

Behind the altar is a large oak panel richly carved. In the center Saint Joseph stands holding his staff which, according to legend, blossomed with a lily at his espousals to Mary. Above his shoulder two angels are investing him with the cloak of integrity. At his feet other angels hold a scroll on which is inscribed, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" ("Glory to God in the Highest"), the song sung by the angles at the nativity, and "Surge et Accipe Puerem" ("Arise and Take the Child"), rounding the central figure of Joseph are four groups of figures representing the principal events of his life: upper left, the Espousal with the Blessed Virgin; lower left; the nativity; lower right, the Flight into Egypt; upper right, the Holy Family at Nazareth.

The Hidden Life of Our Lord

The transept window on the north, or Epistle, side of the church portrays scenes from the hidden life of our Lord. From left to right the first lancet depicts the Annunciation; the second, the Nativity; the third, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple; and the fourth, the Carpenter Shop at Nazareth. In this fourth lancet a medallion depicting a printer operating a press fittingly recalls the trade of the donors of this window.

The Public Life of Our Lord

The transept window on the Gospel side recalls events from the public life of Our Lord. From left to right the first lancet depicts the Wedding Feast at Cana; the second, the Healing of the Leper (Luke 5:12); the third, the Ecce Homo scene when Jesus was condemned to death by Pilate; the fourth, the Pieta scene when the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of His sorrowing mother.

The accompanying sketch shows also in the foreground the pulpit of the Church. Built of fine-grained West Virginia oak, the pulpit rests on a base of black Belgian marble. Carved on the center panel are the two appropriate quotations from Sacred Scripture: "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17), and "That they may know Thee" (John 17:3). The latter verse is also the device on Cardinal Cushing's coat of arms.

The four windows on the Epistle side of the nave portray major events in the life of the patron of the church, Saint Ignatius Loyola.

The first window (the one nearest the north transept) is entitled Ignatius at Pampeluna, 1521. Struck by a cannon ball in the foot, the wounded Ignatius is shown being carried from the field by fellow soldiers. The battle of Pampeluna marked the turning point in Ignatius' life because it was during the long convalescence from his wound that the Saint resolved to forego his worldly ambitions and to give himself wholly to the service of God.

Ignatius at Pampeluna, 1521

Ignatius at Manresa, 1522, is the title of the next window. In a cave near Manresa, Spain, the Saint spent over a year in praying, practicing austerities, and composing his great ascetical work, The Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius is here pictured praying to Mary and the Christ Child, and writing the Exercises.

The third window, Ignatius and Xavier, Paris, 1530, pictures the two future saints when they were still fellow students at the University of Paris. Ignatius is shown repeating to Francis Xavier our Lord's question: "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26)—the question that made Xavier a companion of Ignatius, a missionary to the Indies, and ultimately a saint.

The fourth window, First Vows, August 15, 1534, shows the birth of the Society of Jesus in the chapel at Montmartre near Paris. Ignatius and his first companions, Francis Xavier, James Laynez, Alphonso Salmeron, Nicolas Bobadilla, and Simon Rodriguez are depicted pronouncing their vows as Jesuits and receiving Holy Communion from Peter Fabre, at that time the sole priest of the pioneer group.

The windows on the Gospel side of the nave are devoted to portraying major events and personages from the history of the Society of Jesus, the religious order which Saint Ignatius founded.

The first window (that nearest the sanctuary) shows Pope Paul III granting to Saint Ignatius in 1540 full papal approval of the new religious order.

In the middle lancet of the second window Our Lady is pictured radiant and pure. In the lancets on either side stand the two Jesuit Doctors of the Church, Saint Peter Canisius and Saint Robert Cardinal Bellarmine. These theologians, following an unbroken tradition in the Society of Jesus, were indefatigable champions of Mary's Immaculate Conception long before this doctrine became an obligatory tenet of the Catholic faith.

Jesuit Martyrs of North America

The Sacred Heart dominates the scene in the third window on the Gospel side of the nave. In the left lancet is the Visitation nun, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom the Sacred Heart revealed His special love for men and His desire that mankind make reparation for the offenses against His love. In the right lancet is Blessed Claude de la Columbiere, the Jesuit confessor and spiritual director of Saint Margaret Mary.

The fourth window depicts the three "Boy Saints" of the Society of Jesus: Saint John Berchmans, the patron of altar boys; Saint Stanislaus Kotska, who died as a novice; and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron of youth.

The fifth window, sketched on the opposite page, is dedicated to the Jesuit martyrs of North America. In the middle lancet Saint Isaac Jogues is seen carving on the bark of a tree the Sacred Name of Jesus. Among the Indians watching him can be seen the Venerable Kateri Tekakwitha, the "Lily of the Mohawks," an Indian girl who attained remarkable sanctity.

The figures of the Stations of the Cross are carved from basswood in low relief, set against a walnut background, and framed in a gold leaf border. To focus attention on the meaning of the event portrayed, no station contains more than two figures in addition to that of Our Lord.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

On the Gospel side, starting from the sanctuary and proceeding toward the rear of the Church, the seven stations are arranged as follows:

  1. Jesus is Condemned to Death
  2. Jesus Receives His Cross
  3. Jesus Falls the First Time
  4. Jesus Meets His Sorrowing Mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
  6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus Falls the Second Time
On the Epistle side, starting from the rear of the Church and moving towards the sanctuary, the stations are arranged as follows:
  1. Jesus Consoles the Women of Jerusalem
  2. Jesus Falls the Third Time
  3. Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
  4. Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
  5. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  6. Jesus Is Taken Down from the Cross
  7. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

Over the choir loft in the rear of the church is the Christ the King window. Largest of the windows, it is distinctive for five lofty lancets and delicate limestone tracery. In the middle lancet Christ the King is seen enthroned. In His lap he holds a tablet inscribed with the single word "Pax" ("Peace") to stress the fact that only Christ's reign can bring peace to the world. Above His head hovers a dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost. At Christ's feet is the globe of the earth watered by seven streams, the Seven Sacraments.

Christ the King Window

In the lancet on the extreme left two figures from the old testament are seen: Moses, holding the stone tablets of the Law; and the prophet Elias, writing on a scroll. These two figures were chosen because they appeared at the Transfiguration when our Lord manifested his kingly splendor for the first time. In the lancet on the extreme right appear two figures from the New Testament: Saints Peter and Paul. The latter holds a sword, the instrument of his martyrdom. The former is carrying not only the keys, the symbol of the papacy, but also a model of this very Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola.

Elsewhere in the window are the symbols of Faith (a cross), Hope (an anchor), and Charity (a heart); of the four evangelists: Matthew (an ox), Mark (a lion), Luke (a man), and John (an eagle); and of the Resurrection (a lamb carrying a banner). Furthermore, pictured in the window are the tools of an artisan, a doctor, a reader, an artist, a student, and an astronomer—signifying the various spheres of human activity of which Christ the king holds dominion.

The Tourelle

A tourelle, a feature of many an ancient cathedral, lends an Old World charm to Saint Ignatius Church. Topped by a five foot iron cross gilded with gold leaf, the "little tower" houses the baptistery.

The Baptistery

The baptistery has a door giving direct access from the outside, symbolically emphasizing the fact that those who are to be baptized are still outside the Church. The baptismal font is made of Alabama stone and covered by a lofty oak tourelle. Carved on the tourelle are the faces of infants, a reminder of the many new-born babies that are baptized in the font every year. Crowning the tourelle is the figure of a dove, a symbol of the Holy Ghost, which recalls the baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist.

The three small windows of the baptistery all refer to the Sacrament of Baptism. In the center window we see symbols of the three Persons of the Trinity, the four rivers of Paradise, and the flock of Christ. The window on the right recalls the abrogation of the Old Law; the window on the left depicts various symbols of Baptism and the beginning of the New Law.

The ambry, a cupboard for housing the holy oils and other articles used at Baptism, is made of solid oak. Carved on the ambry door is the Lamb of God carrying the banner of the Resurrection.

A wrought-iron grille separates the baptistery from the nave.

Below the church are the Father Clink Auditorium and the Father Friary Room.

Altar in Father Clinck Auditorium

Named in memory of the Reverend Joseph J. Clink, S.J., who served nine years as a parish priest at Saint Ignatius Church before his death, the Auditorium was designed primarily for meetings, lectures, and other similar types of parish activity. When needed it serves also as an auxiliary church. Hence it is equipped with an altar which can be recessed into the wall when not in use. The Auditorium seats three hundred.

Dedicated to the memory of the Reverend Walter F. Friary, S.J., who also served nine years in the parish before his death, the Father Friary Room is a social hall. It accommodates two hundred. Adjoining it are facilities for the preparation and serving of refreshments.

Pictured is a detail from the window entitled Ignatius and Xavier, Paris 1530 (cf. above). Above the opening words of our Lord's question is a scale with the world in one pan of the balance and a figure representing the soul of main in the other.

Detail from Ignatius and Xavier, Paris, 1530.
Welcome to the Boston College Flynn Recreation Complex

Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam Architect I. P. Lord of Desmond and Lord
Consultant Reverend William L. Johnson, S.J.
Builders C. J. Maney Company
Sculptor Archangelo Cascieri



Copyright © 2007 St. Ignatius.