Centennial celebration planned for historic Cape Cod chapel

By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

WEST BARNSTABLE, Mass. — The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews (6:19) describes hope in the Risen Christ as “an anchor for the soul.”

The maritime metaphor is appropriate, given that many of Christ’s early disciples were fishermen and could easily grasp how the lack of a reliable anchor could send an otherwise secured vessel aimlessly adrift and lost at sea.

It’s similarly appropriate then that one of the historic chapels on Cape Cod is adorned with a unique anchor-shaped cross atop its domed steeple. While that distinctive landmark had been missing from the historic Our Lady of Hope Chapel of late, it was recently restored and rededicated on May 17 in preparation for this summer’s even-bigger centennial celebration.

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A special 100th anniversary Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., at Our Lady of Hope Chapel on Sunday, July 19 at noon. Refreshments will be served immediately following the Mass and all are welcome.

Located at the intersection of Route 6A and Parker Road in West Barnstable, the small but charming Our Lady of Hope Chapel — a mission of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Centerville — is sometimes referred to as being in the “Spanish Monastic” style of architecture, or “the type of architecture that the monasteries would use, that best fitted their customs, needs, and materials available, when they moved into Spain and neighboring countrysides” in the 1300s, according to parishioner G. Margaret Rourke in her 1990 brochure, “A Work of Love,” detailing the history of the structure.

Rourke also noted the important symbolism of this unique anchor-cross hybrid topping the chapel’s tower.

“The anchor is the ecclesiastical symbol of hope and a universal insignia for things nautical, so befitting our area with its fishermen,” she wrote. “The round dome on the square base is classical Byzantine, and directly under it is a pier and arch ‘belfry’ that is typically Romanesque. This merging of architectural forms took place around the third century when the early Church had to move east from Rome to Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople. The whole tower is an integral part of the church construction, and the stock and shank of the anchor serve as the usual cross seen on Catholic churches.”

The maritime motif is continued with the statue of Our Lady of Hope holding an anchor just above the main entrance and depictions of anchors on all of the stained-glass windows within. “The anchor appears in all of the stained glass windows of the church, which also contain the devotional Latin phrases and titles of the woman to whom the chapel is dedicated,” wrote parishioner Edward W. Kirk in his 2011 book “Faith of Our Fathers and Mothers: A Look Back at 50 Years in the Life of a Parish.”

Kirk explained how the majority of the founding parishioners in this area of Cape Cod were Portuguese immigrants — a group that also had close ties to the sea.

“Thus, the chapel would serve not only as a conveniently located place of worship, but also as a tangible reminder of the ‘old country’ for the Portuguese community in the area,” Kirk wrote. “It combined perfectly the ecclesiastical significance of the anchor with the heritage of the mariner, and placed those ‘in peril on the sea’ under the care and protection of (Mary,) Star of the Sea.”

The exterior statue of Our Lady of Hope was sculpted by artist John Kirshmeyer, a friend of Father Mortimer Downing, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Hyannis at the time. 

While the parish already claimed two mission chapels — Sacred Heart in Yarmouthport and Our Lady of the Assumption in Osterville — the growing Portuguese community in West Barnstable was in need of a place of worship to call their own.

Our Lady of Hope is the name given to an apparition of the Blessed Mother who was said to have appeared to a group of children on Jan. 17, 1871 in the small town of Pontmain during the height of the Franco-Prussian War when it looked like France was going to lose. After Our Lady appeared, it’s reported that the Germans started to retreat, and just 11 days later a peace treaty was signed.

An identical plaster version of Our Lady of Hope is located inside the Sanctuary. Both statues depict the Virgin Mary as described by the children.

The 12 windows in the nave also contain a symbol of each of the Twelve Apostles, lilies to represent the Blessed Mother, and a Latin word from the first two verses of the song, “Ave Maris Stella,” the hymn the townspeople in France sang when she appeared.

Designed by Father Downing in collaboration with renowned architect Mathew Sullivan of the Boston-based Maginnis and Walsh firm (which also designed many of the churches for the Archdiocese of Boston), the chapel’s solid structure owes a lot to the founding Portuguese parishioners — many of whom helped build the church, brick-by-brick, with their own hands.

“By the 1900s, there were a goodly number of Portuguese people settled in West Barnstable,” Rourke wrote. “Many were fishermen, others farmers, and still others worked in the flourishing local brick works.

“The then-flourishing West Barnstable Brick Company contributed the bricks at cost. The company foreman, Emilio Silva, handpicked the bricks to go into the chapel and was overseer for much of the bricklaying. The bricks used in the construction of the building show through to the inside. No wonder Silva hand-picked them.”

Silva was meticulous in selecting the bricks that would be used for the chapel, noting it was important not only for durability but also because the bricks would be visible inside and outside the structure.

“The men in the parish all pitched in and helped out wherever they could as a labor of love,” Rourke wrote. “By 1914 the T-shaped foundation hole had been dug and included a partial basement or ‘undercroft’ as it was then called, constructed of fieldstone of which West Barnstable has plenty, to accommodate a wood-burning stove.”

A year later, the Our Lady of Hope Chapel would be dedicated and on March 16, 1916 Father Downing installed and blessed the Stations of the Cross inside, putting the finishing touches on “the first tangible presence of what is now Our Lady of Victory Parish on Old King’s Highway,” according to Kirk.

In 1928, at the direction of Bishop Daniel Feehan, Our Lady of the Assumption in Osterville became a new parish, separate from St. Francis Xavier, and Our Lady of Hope became a mission of Our Lady of the Assumption.

Years later, with further pastoral planning changes in the diocese, Our Lady of Hope would fall under care of Our Lady of Victory Parish.

The 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Hope Chapel will be celebrated with a Mass at noon on July 19. Those wishing to volunteer or contribute ideas to enhance the celebration are invited to visit the parish website at www.olvparish.org. This link also provides an opportunity for parishioners and friends to share ideas, documents and photos that are being collected to capture the chapel’s history.

Monthly planning meetings are held at the Hope House, adjacent to the chapel, at 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month. For more information, you can also email hopechapel@olvparish.org

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