With roots that date back to 1832, the parish of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Diocese of Providence, celebrated its first mass in 1838 in what was then a modest church on the same location. In 1847, the church was promoted to “cathedral” when Providence became an independent diocese. By 1872, the Roman Catholic population grew exponentially in the diocese to 200,000 people. From the designs of Irish-born New York church architect Patrick Keeley, plans to build a monumental cathedral began in 1878 and the Cathedral was consecrated in 1889. Its Romanesque style exterior, built of Connecticut Brownstone, graces the Cathedral’s facade, while the interior is distinctly Gothic. The ornate sanctuary, lighted in-part by large illustrative stained-glass windows, has a high, pointed arch, wooden roof and marble walls and floors. The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul’s intentional grand scale and placement within the community reflects the significance the Roman Catholic faith continues to have within Providence.
Formally organized in 1671 as “The Church of Christ in Portsmouth”, North Church of Portsmouth’s roots can be traced back to 1638 when the first public worship in town was held. The structure, located on Market Square, was completed in 1855. Seen from most parts of the city, the steeple, as well as the building’s edifice, is constructed in the Italianate style, which references 16th-century Italian Renaissance architecture. North Church has a notable list of members and visitors, which includes: General William Whipple, who signed the Declaration of Independence, John Langdon, signer of the U.S. Constitution and President George Washington. With this in mind, it is not surprising to read that the church’s mission states in-part, “We the members of the North Congregational Church family, a loving and compassionate people of faith, gathered to worship God, accept our responsibility to seek justice for all God’s people.”
Established in 1828, St. Mary’s Church is the oldest Catholic parish in Rhode Island. Designed by noted church architect Patrick Keely along with clergy, this brownstone Gothic Revival style structure was completed in 1852 to meet the spiritual needs of Newport’s growing Irish population. With the sanctuary’s 42 stained glass windows, ornamental woodwork and vaulted wooden hammered beam ceiling, one may certainly bask in the beauty and grandeur of the interior, which can elicit a desire to contemplate the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Organized in 1865, Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Connecticut. Its structure is regarded as one of New Haven’s finest examples of High Victorian Gothic, an eclectic architectural style of the mid to late 19th century. Designed by David Russell Brown for the Church of the Redeemer, the building was constructed in 1870 and has been occupied by Trinity since 1916. The sanctuary retains its late 19th century Victorian style. At the front of the church above the altar resides a large stained glass window referencing the rose, which is considered the unofficial symbol of the congregation. With such amenities as a classroom and bowling alley, the church strives to be a beacon or community center for “uniting all people in a common bond of Christian fellowship.”
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.