Exiled from Massachusetts Colony in 1637 due to religious beliefs, Dr. John Clarke, a medical doctor and Baptist minister, relocated to what is now known as the State of Rhode Island, which he helped co-found. In the spring of 1638, he and other exiles from Massachusetts gathered to form what is now known as the United Baptist Church. Its current structure, built in 1846, is constructed in the Greek Revival style and its sanctuary reflects the simple elegance of a New England meetinghouse with its high vaulted ceiling and pews. The United Baptist Church not only serves as a place of worship for the Baptist community, but acts as a memorial for Dr. John Clarke. Clarke, an advocate for religious freedom and author of the 1663 Rhode Island charter wrote in it, “that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested [harassed], punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony.” Clarke remained a pastor at the church until his death in 1676.
Formed in 1841 by three women who wanted to make the Episcopalian faith available to all who wished to attend, Emmanuel Church began with humble “cottage meetings” in local homes, which had quickly grown to eighty-eight parishioners by 1849. In 1855, the first structure was built to house the Emmanuel Church, and as the parish grew, a new and more permanent building was erected in 1901 and completed in 1902. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram of the architectural firm, Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, its current stone structure is built in the Gothic Revival style referencing the shape of a Latin cross. At the front of the church above the choir seats are oak carvings of faces that represent people of all ages, means and abilities—symbolizing the entire community the church wishes to serve. Through its fervent mission of being accessible to all, Emmanuel Church has become known as “the Church of the people” where the “rich and poor, high and low, great and humble—all worship and work together as friends.”
Completed in 1826, South Church also known as the “Stone Church” because of its granite exterior has been a Unitarian Universalist church since 1945. The building, which is thought to have been designed by Jonathan Folsom, is built in the Greek Revival style. Nevertheless, it should be noted that its current interior is in the Baroque style after an 1858 remodel. South Church is one of the first monumental granite buildings to be built in northern New England. On a plaque located on the facade of the building, it states that in 1717 Portsmouth’s first identified black family was baptized by South Church. With this in mind, it is fitting that the Unitarian Universalist church is housed in this very important landmark, as its mission in part celebrates “the worth and dignity of all people.”
Gosport Chapel is part of the non-profit Star Island Corporation retreat complex, founded on the spiritual ideals of Unitarian-Universalism and the United Church of Christ. The rustic island-based retreat located seven miles off the shores of New Hampshire offers a community-oriented, multi-generational environment for personal reflection and rejuvenation. Gosport Chapel, a modest stone structure built in 1800, sits on the highest point of the island and is at the heart of the complex. As part of a Star Island tradition at the end of each retreat day, participants gather at the foot of the hill and form a procession up a long winding path carrying candle lanterns to the chapel. Inside, the candle lanterns are hung on the wall, providing the only source of light for the evening service.
Founded in 1854, the First Presbyterian Church commissioned noted architect Wallace K. Harrison in 1953 to design its present structure. Harrison was both a contributing architect and coordinator of such major public buildings as the United Nations, Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center. The structure, which was completed in 1958, is thought to be one of the finest examples of religious modern architecture along with those designed by Le Corbusier, Philip Johnson and Frank Lloyd Wright. Its reinforced concrete and stained glass walls are formed from more than 20,000 individual chunks of inch-thick glass – a stained glass technique called “dalle de verre“. The stained glass design on the right side of the church’s sanctuary suggests the story of the crucifixion and on the left, the story of the resurrection. The windows in the narthex or rear of the church displays symbols of communion and peace. Although not intentional, the church’s sanctuary has been likened to the form of a fish in both profile and floor plan – a symbol used in early Christianity.
Gathered by Roger Williams in 1638, The First Baptist Church in America is the first and longest running Baptist church congregation in the United States. The present home of the First Baptist Church is currently housed in its third building. Completed in 1775, the structure’s architectural style combines Georgian with the traditional New England meetinghouse style with its plain walls, clear glass windows, and dominant pulpit. The lack of religious symbols follows iconoclastic Baptist thought, which regard all symbols, even the cross, as icons and idols. It is the first Baptist meetinghouse to have a steeple and bell in an effort by eighteenth century Baptist advocates to bring greater respectability and recognition to their faith. Roger Williams, the founder of this church and a significant campaigner for religious freedom, was in-part responsible for Rhode Island being a unique haven for religious liberty in the seventeenth century.
Founded in 1846, All Saints Memorial Church is the largest Episcopal church building in the state of Rhode Island. Designed by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, the Gothic style structure was completed in 1872 as a memorial to the Right Reverend John P.K. Henshaw, who was the fourth bishop of Rhode Island. The eighteen lancet windows on the sides and rear of the 135 foot long sanctuary are a mixture of memorial windows and series depicting the life of Christ. At the front of the church above the altar is the 38 foot tall stained glass window, which portrays the resurrected Christ. The inscription at the bottom of the window reads, “Behold He Cometh!”
Completed in 1813 under the leadership of local craftsman William Rhodes, the Federal style Round Church is a sixteen-sided meetinghouse that was built to serve the community as a meeting place and a church for the area’s five Protestant congregations. Nevertheless, shortly after the building was constructed, several of the individual congregations built their own churches and the structure reverted to the Town of Richmond to become exclusively a meetinghouse beginning in 1880. In 1973, the Round Church closed due to safety concerns. As a result, the Richmond Historical Society was formed and with the generosity of the community’s time and money as well as its ability to secure grants, the Round Church remains today—serving as a testament to the now rare traditional New England sixteen-sided meetinghouse.
Nestled on top of Christian Hill within a densely wooded area of Cape Neddick, which overlooks the Gulf of Maine, resides St. Peter’s by the Sea. Built on the location where open air church services had been held during the summers since 1850, this Episcopal chapel continues the tradition. Consecrated in 1898, the rustic stone and wood structure is built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, which draws upon 11th and 12th century southern French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque architecture. Its location is intentional, as the family who bequeathed the land and funded St. Peter’s construction wanted the Church’s cross to be visible to the fishermen at sea.
The congregation of Old South Church in Boston was gathered in 1669 to serve all who seek a spiritual journey in Christian faith. Completed in 1875, the church’s highly ornate Gothic Revival Style is atypical of a traditional New England congregational church. While architects Charles Amos Cummings and Willard T. Sears‘ design intention was to, “radiate the opulent taste and the sense of optimism and progress of the Industrial Revolution following the Civil War”, the congregation has been recognized for equality and social justice, with such notable congregants as Samuel Sewall who published the first anti-slavery writing in the United States in 1700, The Selling of Joseph. As poet John Greenleaf Whittier eloquently wrote, ‘So long as Boston shall Boston be, And her bay tides rise and fall, Shall freedom stand in the Old South Church, And plead for the rights of all.”