Rhode Island

Mysterious carving found at Rhode Island church where JFK was married

In this undated photo provided by St. Mary's Church, the carved figure of a woman's face is visible on a wall in the church in Newport, R.I.

In this undated photo provided by St. Mary's Church, the carved figure of a woman's face is visible on a wall in the church in Newport, R.I.  (Cody Mead/St. Mary's Church via AP)

A mysterious carving of a woman's face has been discovered at the church where John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier married in 1953, the church announced Wednesday.

St. Mary's Church in Newport is being restored. The carving was discovered recently when a large organ was dismantled, revealing decorative columns, said the Rev. Kris von Maluski.

Maluski believes it's Mary Magdalene. Her face is split between two columns that face each other, forming a line with carvings of the 12 apostles in the choir loft.

"She has got to be significant to be on that level," he said. "But the organ was so massive, she was lost for a very long time."

The carving dates back more than 160 years to when the church was built. Maluski is contacting churches also designed by architect Patrick Keely at that time to see if they have a similar carving and know its identity.

The church is restoring the organ and replacing the casework and pipes with parts that fit into the space and match the Gothic style of the church. The organ will now be redesigned so there's a seven-inch gap to see the face, Maluski said.

A mold of the face also is being made to preserve the work of art and display it in the church.

"She will never again be forgotten," Maluski said. "The church normally will focus on the men of the church, the founding fathers, so when we find a woman that's on the same level as 12 other men, we sure want to know who that woman was."

The church was the site of the Sept. 12, 1953 wedding, when Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts. The couple often spent weekends and summers in Newport, where his wife's family owned property.

During those visits, including during his presidency, the couple worshipped at St. Mary's, always sitting in pew 10.