Our Benefactor


Marcellus Seth Ayer
Benefactor of The Ayer Institute
October 8, 1839 to January 30, 1921

Marcellus Seth Ayer, benefactor of the Ayer Institute and the First Spiritual Temple Trust, was born in Embden, Maine, on October 8, 1839. His parents were Seth Ayer and Mary Nutting Ayer. He came from a long line of New Englanders; originally from the Haverhill, Massachusetts area and, later, from the Embden, Maine area, known as Ayer Hill. He was one of six sons: Seth; Joseph; Marcellus Seth; George Augustus; Josiah; and Eugene.

At some point during the latter 1860’s, Marcellus Ayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he became a teacher for the Boston school system. His love for young people and their future was evident during those years.

It was during the 1870’s that Marcellus Ayer made a dramatic change in his life’s work. Although his interest in education and spiritual thought was strong, he knew that he had other things to do, at least for the time being. Deep within his soul, he knew that God had placed him on the earth to fulfill some type of spiritual mission. His faith in God and Spirit assured him that, when the time was right, he would be given a clear sign; until then, he pursued other interests. His belief that religion, spirituality, science, and education should work together for the advancement of humanity played a major role in his future achievements.

Although Mr. Ayer knew that man is not fed by bread alone, bread on the table was important to him. He had a keen interest in the grocery trade and worked in various sectors of the business until he could start his own company.

He started small, with his office on State Street, Boston, which, at that time, bordered Boston Harbor. He received goods from the clipper ships and dispersed them to the various retail grocers in the city. Throughout his career and its many incarnations, Marcellus Ayer had a simple motto:

Do well thy work, for it shall succeed in thine or in another’s time.

He also believed in the basic concept of prosperity: if you send out positive thought, with the good of the whole in mind, good things will come to you. He extended prosperity one step further; he firmly believed that, if called upon to give what you have received for a greater cause, you should be willing to do so. He lived his life under this basic concept. And it worked.

Marcellus Ayer’s business, known as M.S. Ayer and Company, became a huge financial success. He purchased 189-191 State Street and 86-88 Central Street and became one of Boston’s most prestigious and respected wholesale grocers. In his trade, he was fair, honest, and hard working. People knew and loved him as a kind and generous man.

Business continued to grow, and Marcellus Ayer waited for the sign that he knew would eventually come. In the meantime, his religious and spiritual interests continued to broaden and eventually embraced Theosophy and Spiritualism. His interest in Spiritualism continued to expand, but he was deeply saddened at what the Spiritualists of the day were doing with the “pearl of great price” placed in their midst.

He firmly embraced the concept of Spirit and spiritual communication. But he knew that it was all just a doorway: a doorway into life’s most amazing mysteries and revelations. He knew that what was being revealed through Spirit communication could be an answer to people’s most perplexing questions. To him, mediumship was a gift to Humanity; not to be embraced by any one group, nor to be limited to simple phenomena and demonstration. It was a gift given to all people, of all faiths and denominations. To Marcellus Ayer, Spiritualism – in its core – represented the missing link to many of life’s mysteries.

However, what Marcellus Ayer saw as the potential for Spiritualism fell far short from what Spiritualism was becoming. This deeply concerned and saddened our founder.

Finally, in the early 1880’s, while sitting in a circle for Spirit communication and philosophy at his home in West Chester Park, Boston, the sign that he knew would someday be given was given. And what a sign it was! Several of his family members and others in Spirit physically materialized to him and, via direct voice, instructed him that now was the time for him to give back to God and Spirit what God had so generously given to him.

He was instructed that now was the time for him to begin a spiritual community from which the noble truths of a New Dispensation in Spiritualism. Furthermore, he was told that such inspiration was being given to others throughout the planet, primarily in Germany, Russia, and South America.

The messages and inspiration from Spirit kept coming and the basic concepts of the spiritual community were established, as were the details for its building.

It was to be a place:

  • From which the voice of God and Spirit could speak to all people, from all religious and spiritual backgrounds.
  • In which the life and teachings of the Masters could be embraced as an example for people of all faiths.
  • From which both the religious, the spiritual, and the scientific implications of Spirit phenomena and communication could be examined, free from dogma and prejudice.
  • Of healing and succor for the soul.

In the meantime, other plans were being made. A Temple was being created. Plans for this grand edifice were given to Marcellus Ayer by Spirit. He presented the plans to local architects and, on April 9, 1884, the cornerstone for the building to be known as

The First Spiritual Temple

was laid at the corner of Exeter and Newbury Streets, in the Back Bay section of Boston, Massachusetts. It was a beautiful ceremony, with many people in attendance.

Then, on April 30, 1884, Marcellus Ayer deeded the property, in perpetual trust, to a body known as the

Trustees of the First Spiritual Temple

While the Temple was being constructed, meetings were held at Berkeley Hall, just three blocks away.

And then, it all came about, with a wondrous three-day dedication and celebration. Marcellus Ayer’s dream came true. The edifice known as the First Spiritual Temple was dedicated and consecrated on September 26th, 27th, and 28th, 1885.

Over 1,200 people filled the main hall and walked through the Temple’s library, lecture hall, and multitude of classrooms.

Marcellus Ayer gave it all back to God and Spirit. The whole expense of constructing the Temple was assumed by him alone. It was a monumental financial task, but he believed in giving back to God, and he did so gladly, with no personal fanfare. His name appears nowhere in the original Boston Temple as the sole benefactor of such a glorious edifice.

Marcellus Ayer was humanitarian in nature. He believed deeply in the Fatherhood and Motherhood of God and the brotherhood/sisterhood of Humanity. Committed to human rights, he was an avid proponent of the Suffrage Movement and human rights in general. He also devoted his energies to expounding health and hygiene. In fact, he was the first to develop a decaffeinated coffee substitute in Boston. He was also committed to pioneer psychical research, working closely with the renowned Andrew Jackson Davis and Joseph Rhodes Buchanan in fostering such work.

The Temple’s work, under the direction of the Ayer Trustees, continued to grow, up until around 1910. Prejudice and resentment ultimately took their toll on the Temple. In 1914, the main sanctuary of the Temple was reconstructed and converted into Boston’s legendary Exeter Street Theatre. Our records indicate that Marcellus Ayer initially opposed this move, but finally agreed, hoping that someday the theatre would be removed, and the Temple would return to her former glory. The ownership and management of the Temple remained under the direction of the Ayer Trustees, as was the work of the Ayer Institute.

In 1975, under great financial strain, the Trustees were forced to sell the Boston Temple and relocated to the Longwood area of Brookline. On September 30, 2013, the Brookline property was sold.

On June 16, 2017, Trustee Stephen Fulton passed to Spirit. The mission and ministry of the Ayer Trust and its Institute were then under the direction of Trustee Simeon. Finally, on October 12, 2021, Trustee Simeon appointed James Amburn to work with him in the furtherance of the Temple and its Ayer Institute.

Times have changed, and the way people communicate and interact have changed accordingly. Much of the work of the Ayer Institute is now being conducted through its website and virtually, via the Zoom platform. Our long-term goal is to purchase property from which the work of the Ayer Institute can move forward, both in-house and virtually.

Marcellus Ayer passed away, in his home, at 190 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, on January 30, 1921. Many of his dreams were realized; many were not. But, despite the good and the bad times, he always lived by his motto, one which should speak to us all, today:

Do well thy work, for it shall succeed in thine or in another’s time.

In the words of our venerable benefactor, the goal of the both the Ayer Institute and the Ayer Trustees is to promulgate

“The soul’s recognition of its immortality and the progressive development of its Divine attributes, powers, and potentials.”

Marcellus Seth Ayer (1839-1921)
Established April 30, 1885

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