Mary Baker Eddy Monument

Mary Baker Eddy (July 16, 1821 – December 3, 1910) was a religious leader and author who was responsible for founding the Christian Science church. She lived her entire life in the New England region of the United States. Her enigmatic personality was both reviled and revered, approaching sainthood in the eyes of some, while others believed her to be a charming, albeit hypocritical, huckster. Upon her passing, The Boston Globe lauded her saying, “She did a wonderful – an extraordinary work in the world and there is no doubt that she was a powerful influence for good.”

Early Years and Influences

Mary Baker Eddy was born in the summer of 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire. Her father, a strict religious practitioner, ensured the family lived by the prevailing Puritan values of the day, doing honest but hard work each day of the week, except Sunday, the day of rest. Baker Eddy’s mother took on the more traditional role of caretaker and nurturer.

Baker Eddy often took ill as a child, experiencing fainting spells and severe and debilitating bouts of energy depletion. In later years, psychiatrists and historians attributed these episodes to being psychosomatic in nature, perhaps as a response to the strict and cool manner in which her father parented Baker Eddy and her siblings.

Baker Eddy was regarded as being exceptionally intelligent and headstrong. The bulk of her early education was arrived at by self-teaching, reading texts and studying with her brothers who were receiving a more formal education. After some time, Baker Eddy’s father relented, enrolling her in a local school.

Not long after leaving school, Baker Eddy, who had always had a strong interest in the concepts and study of spirituality, found a mentor in Phineas Quimby, a man who professed that medicines and physicians were no better for curing suffering and illness than faith and our own minds. The teachings of Quimby profoundly affected Baker Eddy and are widely regarded as the foundational ethos for the church she later founded.

The Spiritual Journey of Mary Baker Eddy

Before finally founding the Christian Science church, Baker Eddy sought enlightenment down several non-traditional paths. She was alleged to have dabbled in Spiritualism, a practice that, in the 1800’s was viewed akin to heresy. Rumors abounded the Baker Eddy both attended and even sometimes led seances in parlors in and around Boston, Massachusetts.

Baker Eddy also looked eastward for influence, appropriating much of the Bhagavad-Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture, in her own book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This best selling tome was criticized for its direct plagiarism of Baker Eddy’s mentor, Phineas Quimby, as well as its strikingly similar message to that of the Bhagavad-Gita as well.

Writing in his own work entitled Christian Science, noted American satirist Mark Twain shared his opinion on the quality of Baker Eddy’s authorship:

“Largely speaking, I have read acres of what purported to be Mrs. Eddy’s writings, in the past two months. I cannot know, but I am convinced, that the circumstantial evidence shows that her actual share in the work of composing and phrasing these things was so slight as to be inconsequential. Where she puts her literary foot down, her trail across her paid polisher’s page is as plain as the elephant’s in a Sunday-school procession. Her verbal output, when left undoctored by her clerks, is quite unmistakable.”

While it is patently clear Baker Eddy had her detractors in her life, her influence cannot be denied. Today there exist approximately 1,700 Christian Science churches in 76 countries. In each of those communities, the congregants present the Christian Science Reading Room as a public service. Baker Eddy’s book, despite the questions surrounding its authorship, has remained a best seller for decades and was listed among others as one of the “75 Books By Women Whose Words Have Changed The World,” by the Women’s National Book Association.

Mount Auburn Cemetery

The Mount Auburn Cemetery is a sprawling memorial garden in a pastoral setting located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Buried and interred there are several prominent individuals, including poets, dignitaries, and influential public figures. The grounds are open to the public for walking tours and include several miles of peaceful walking paths.

Mount Auburn, along with the Green-Wood Cemetery located in Brooklyn, New York, was one of the early influences on Frederick Law Olmsted for the design and creation of one of the most significant public spaces ever made, New York City’s Central Park. Olmsted realized the throngs of visitors each year to the park-like cemeteries exposed the need and desire for grand, open spaces in the rapidly growing cities of the early and mid 1800’s.

A Legacy in Perpetuity: The Mary Baker Eddy Mausoleum

Mary Baker Eddy was buried at Mount Auburn in an open-air mausoleum that was designed by the renowned New York City-based architect Egerton Swarthout. According to Douglas Keister, the design of the mausoleum derives from a tholos form of a circular colonnade which consists of eight columns each 15 feet in height. Swarthout explained why he included no roof, saying there should be “nothing between the grave and sky but flowers.”

Widely regarded as the finest example of the granite carver’s craft, Mary Baker Eddy’s mausoleum is constructed entirely of Bethel, Vermont white granite and features carved floral representations of the morning glory and the wild rose. The wild rose was Mary Baker Eddy’s favorite flower, and the morning glory was selected for symbolically opening to light and closing to darkness. Also carved into the mausoleum is the lamp of wisdom and a sheaf of wheat.

Mary Baker Eddy was a complex and, at times, perplexing individual. Her impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals cannot be denied or discounted. Her final resting place at Mount Auburn Cemetery provides a dignified legacy representative of the extraordinary life she lived.

Text and photo © Douglas Keister Visit Doug’s Author Page

[address cemetery=”Mount Auburn Cemetery” street=”580 Mount Auburn Stree” city=”Cambridge” state=”Massachusetts” zip=”2138″]

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