On this short, escorted stroll along historic Spring and Pelham Streets…
In colonial Rhode Island, separation of church and state fostered religious liberty. This freedom promoted a rich diversity of religious thought and worship. The quotes highlight ways in which the four houses of worship on our tour reflect Newport’s contributions to our nation’s liberty, philosophy, art, and architecture.
Touro Synagogue – Dedicated in 1763
Hear the remarkable story of Touro Synagogue, a building of exquisite beauty and design, and America’s oldest Jewish house of worship. Designed by noted colonial architect Peter Harrison, Touro was designated a National Historic Site in 1946.
In 340 well-chosen words, President George Washington’s letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport,” reassured those who had fled tyranny that life in their new nation would be different, that religious “toleration” would give way to religious liberty, and that the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Newport Congregational Church – 1857
Marvel at the exquisite geometric murals and opalescent stained-glass windows designed by preeminent 19th century artist John La Farge. Newport Congregational Church, once known as United Congregational Church, was designated a National Historical Landmark in 2012.
Our island’s natural beauty also inspired artist John La Farge, whose work adorns both the Newport Congregational Church and Channing Memorial Church. Of La Farge’s work, art historian Barbara Weinberg writes “La Farge’s murals were absolutely unprecedented in the history of American Art and remain among the most significant manifestations of the American mural movement.”
United Baptist Church – 1644
Roger Williams founded the First Baptist Church in America in nearby Providence, after being driven from Massachusetts in 1636. In 1638 John Clarke, a minister, from Great Britain, started leading worship services in nearby Portsmouth, RI after he and his congregation were also expelled from Massachusetts.
Clarke and his followers set out to establish a settlement that would put forth the group’s beliefs in soul liberty, religious freedom, and civil liberty. On April 28, 1639, Clarke and others reached an agreement to move to the southern end of Aquidneck Island to form a new settlement, which became known as Newport. The first meeting house for his congregation was built in the Green End area in 1644.
On May 2, 1946, after several consolidations of the town’s Baptist congregations, a new congregation called the United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial was formed.
Channing Memorial Church – 1880
Experience a place where the congregation’s beliefs cover a wide range of modern religious thought. Enjoy stunning architectural features and learn why Channing was built as a memorial for William Ellery Channing, an early Unitarian minister and abolitionist.
The philosophy and theology expressed in William Ellery Channing’s sermons and writings did much to inspire the development of American Unitarianism. In his words, “Each of us is meant to have a character all our own, to be what no other can exactly be, and do what no other can exactly do.”