On opposite edges of Copley Square, separated by the makeshift memorial to the Boston Marathon bombing victims, two oases of calm reopened Wednesday and lured hundreds of visitors from the crowded plaza and surrounding streets.
The visitors knelt or sat in the majestic sanctuaries of Trinity Church and Old South Church, many alone, reflecting on the meaning of the mayhem that took three lives and injured 264 people only steps away.
They had come to pray.
Terry Pitman and Martha Saunders were among them, out-of-state visitors attending a business convention at the Westin Copley Place hotel. They walked across the square and into Trinity Church for a few moments of quiet.
“Prayer is a part of my daily life, and praying for others is who I am,” Saunders said, touching her heart. “I do that every day, but I’m especially drawn to this place because of the tragedy.”
For Pitman, who arrived from Virginia on Tuesday when the square remained off-limits, the serenity of the church’s soaring Romanesque interior provided “peace in the middle of a storm, and this was a big one.”
Old South opened its doors at 8 a.m., Trinity at 9 a.m., as the shaken neighborhood reclaimed some of the color and bustle of a normal weekday. Tourists and lunch-hour walkers crisscrossed the square, others lay on the lawn to be warmed by the sun, and Red Sox fans hustled to an afternoon game at Fenway Park.
But leaders at both churches knew that normalcy was an illusion. Thousands of people stopped to reflect and gaze at the crosses, notes, and flowers left for the victims at the makeshift memorial, which had been moved from Boylston and Berkeley streets. Knots of onlookers paused throughout the day at two bombing sites on Boylston Street to reflect and to record their visit with photos.
“The Christian bumper sticker, to me, is ‘new life out of death,’ and that is what we’re living right now,” said the Rev. Patrick C. Ward, associate rector at Trinity Church. “Death is never the last word.”
Outside, John Williams and Elizabeth Cox spoke of their plans to be married at the Episcopal church May 4. To the Watertown couple, who heard gunfire before the second bombing suspect was arrested Friday, visiting Trinity in times of trouble seems reflexive.
“In the hard times, you look to your faith,” Williams said.
Near its main doors, Trinity posted a sign that proclaimed: Open for Prayer. Inside, Narado Yetman invited visitors to step inside the sanctuary. By midafternoon, the staff member estimated, 200 visitors had accepted his invitation.
“A lot of them have been praying on the go,” Yetman said, with a smile.
But even if the prayers were brief, Ward said, important work was being done.
“It’s a beautiful, quiet, still space — alone with God and their thoughts,” the associate rector said. “People experience trauma and react to trauma in many ways. I don’t think there’s a correct way to respond.”
For Ward, the bombing aftermath has been personal and profound. “I think it’s deepened my faith, actually,” he said.
He also offered a secular suggestion: “Come down to Copley Square, buy a sandwich, and do some shopping.”
Across Boylston Street, near the first bombing site, an organ boomed inside Old South Church. Bill Adams, a congregation member from Quincy, stepped inside for the first time since before the Marathon.
“It feels strange. You get goose bumps walking up the street,” Adams said. “We’re ready to slow down.”
For Monday and Tuesday, the staff of the Old South, part of the United Church of Christ, worked out of a basement office loaned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. On Wednesday, the time had come to return.
“It’s wonderful to be back,” said Corey Spence, an Old South receptionist who logged each visitor in a ledger. By early afternoon, the number had reached 129.
“We’re home,” Adams added.
John Edgerton, associate minister, said he welcomed the chance to get back to work. “It’s about offering a sanctuary in the midst of the city. Now, more than ever, we’re committed to that,” Edgerton said.
As part of that effort, the weekly Jazz Worship will be held outside the church at 6 p.m. Thursday to comfort passersby. The need for solace remains fresh, the minister said.
On Sunday, he said, congregants will walk to the finish line, where they will pause briefly while the church bell tolls for each of the dead.
At times like this, Edgerton said, “there’s a great comfort in this place.”