In the early 1800s, Boston’s Catholic leadership decided to build a convent on the Ploughed Hill of Charlestown (now Somerville). Starting in 1820, Ursuline sisters ran the convent and its school for girls on the summit, which they renamed Mount Benedict.
In a predominantly Protestant environment, rumors started about mysterious and devious activities in the convent, including forced conversions, kidnapping, and torture. Incited by preachers, a mob of few dozen assembled on August 11, 1834, and set the convent on fire. The nuns and their students fled, but the building was burned to the ground.
The nuns first relocated to Roxbury, and then to Quebec. Although it became clear that the rumors were unsubstantiated, in the light of stalled prosecutions and absence of compensations, the Diocese of Boston sold the property in the 1870s. Some of the bricks from the convent’s ruins were used in construction of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.
Between 1875 and 1897, the convent ruins were razed and the hill was leveled to make room for housing. Only a small monument next to the East Branch of the Somerville Public Library reminds passersby of this largely forgotten event that sheds important light on toxic inter-religious relations in 19th-century Boston.
Know Before You Go
Most sources point out 11 Austin street as the address of the monument, but that is not the case. A five-minute walk from that location, the monument is located to the right of the entrance to the East Branch of the Somerville Public Library, on the corner of Broadway street and Illinois Avenue.