4 sites, 4 faiths: Newport’s new religious tour

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Most New England Jews know about the historic Touro Synagogue, in Newport. But how much do we know about Newport’s other significant religious sites?

 

That’s where the Four Faiths tour comes in. Now in its second year, Four Faiths is a walking tour that visits four of Newport’s historically significant religious sites and explains how different religious groups interacted during the city’s early days.

Andy Long, outreach coordinator of the United Congregational Church, led a mini-version of the three-hour tour earlier this month for The Jewish Voice.

“We try to tell the story of religious tensions around here in Newport,” Long said.  The tour, he says, also aims to show how closely intertwined religions were in Newport during a time when that wasn’t always the case elsewhere.

The first stop was Touro Synagogue, where we met with Chuck Flippo, the manager of the synagogue’s Loeb Visitors Center.

“We try to evoke the past and show that Newport was very important,” Flippo said as he led us up a staircase and into a small interactive exhibit. One part of the exhibit is a large touch screen that shows portraits and profiles of early American Jews who lived in the Newport area.

“They look like other Americans at the time,” said Flippo, explaining that Newport was a rare community that integrated Jews. “They were welcome; they could worship, which was not true everywhere.”

Newport, he says, was a “gumball of people all doing business together.”

The next stop was the Trinity Episcopal Church, which Long described as “the heart of Newport.”

“Back then, it really was the heartbeat of the city,” he said of the church at 141 Spring St. 

We were greeted by two cheerful women, Charlotte Johnson and Harle Tinney, who led the tour of the church and explained why it was the heart of the city.

“People came here to do business!” Tinney said. “It was a networking hub for people of all religions to come and do business.”

Our tour guides provided thorough explanations of the church’s quirky construction history and the symbolism behind each aspect of the building. It seems everything has a symbolic significance. The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II is among the notables who have visited the landmark church.

Next was Long’s home territory: the United Congregational Church. Much of the art in this church, including the stained glass windows and a wall-sized mural, integrates symbolic images from multiple religions. The windows, Long said, “symbolize letting the light of other religious beliefs shine through.”

“Once you accept that [idea], that changes the world tremendously. [It] opens you up to a new world of ideas,” he said. “It enriches one’s own religious tradition.”

The final stop was St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. This segment was quite short, as the church was closed during our tour, but one thing to note is that this is the famous marriage site of John and Jacqueline Kennedy. 

This season’s tours run on Sundays and Tuesdays from July to September. Tours, which begin at the Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue, 50 Spring St., should be booked in advance.

Tickets are $28 for adults and $20 for ages 6 to 21 and can be purchased online at www.4faiths.org, at the Newport Visitor Information Center, 23 America’s Cup Ave., or at the Bowen’s Wharf Pilot House.  Four Faiths suggests arriving 30 minutes early to see the Loeb Visitors Center exhibit, which the tour does not cover.

ARIEL BROTHMAN is a freelance writer who lives in Wrentham, Massachusetts.