Religious tour groups will find a wealth of faith-based attractions and entertainment throughout the American Northeast. Here is a sampling of five popular destinations that abound with both religious and secular sights:
Providence, Rhode Island
Separatist minister Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 with religious freedom in mind. Williams was banned from Plymouth County, Massachusetts for his views on the right to worship without state interference and founded what is now Rhode Island’s capital “for God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress.”
Visitors can still worship and tour at the church that Williams established downtown. As the oldest Baptist congregation in the United States, First Baptist Church in America offers daily summer tours on which visitors can see the 200-year-old Waterford crystal chandelier that graces the historic building.
Beneficent Congressional Church is known as the “Round Top Church.” The dome from which it gets its nickname is one of the best and earliest examples of Classical Revival architecture in the United States. The building has been the site of many of Providence’s historical events since its opening in 1810, including Brown University’s first graduation.
First Unitarian Church of Providence is one of many great examples of classical and Gothic architecture that the city has to offer. The 184-year-old church is also home to the largest bell ever cast by Paul Revere’s foundry.
The city also features two historic cathedrals. Built in 1810, the Cathedral of St. John is the oldest Episcopal church in Providence and includes a 160-year-old Hook organ. The connecting graveyard lays rest to several of Providence’s earliest settlers. Another impressive organ can be seen and heard at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The church dates back to the 19th century and its 6,330-pipe Casavant organ bellows from pipes as long as 32 feet.[/one_half]
Providence also offers its visitors natural beauty. The Roger Williams Park Botanical Center is the largest indoor display gardens in all of New England. The Conservatory and Mediterranean Room greenhouses make up over 12,000 square feet of gardens inside the glass, while the surrounding 435-arce park has various outdoor attractions including a perennial garden, a rose maze and a Victorian-style carousel.
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York
The Buffalo Christian Center is a five-story, 66,000-square foot outreach building that is open to the public during certain hours. The hub of Christian outreach in downtown Buffalo, the center houses a swimming pool, indoor mini golf course, gymnasium, game room, roller rink, Christian bookstore and a gorgeous 600-seat theater.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral is one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in Buffalo. The building’s uncommon floor plan stems from the unique shape of the original piece of property it was constructed on. The hammer beam-supported ceiling is adorned with gold-leaf angels while the sanctuary is surrounded by stained-glass windows depicting the 12 apostles.
The Darwin D. Martin House Complex features six buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that masterfully match their surrounding landscape. The complex has almost 400 art-glass windows and is considered one of Wright’s greatest examples of prairie architecture.
Not far from Buffalo is one of the most stunning natural sites the United States has to offer. Niagara Falls ranges from 177 to 184 feet high across its combined over 3,000-foot-long crest. More than 700,000 gallons of water crash onto the rocks below every second, creating a cool mist in the air that can be experienced from a Maid of the Mist boat tour or on a boardwalk. The surrounding area offers many different places to view this landmark.
The Falls Wedding Chapel gives brides and grooms-to-be the opportunity to get married with Niagara’s majestic waterfall in the background. You can even choose to be wed nearly 2,000 feet above the falls in the Sky Wedding Chapel Helicopter. The chapel also does vow renewal ceremonies.
Right across the Canadian border the city of Niagara Falls also offers many religious attractions of its own. Just minutes from the falls is the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre. The 12 acres of retreat and conference center include a beautiful chapel and a mediation labyrinth. Retreats and seminars offer visitors a chance to get away from everyday life and seek spiritual direction, all with a great view of the Niagara River.
Also on the Canadian side sits the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple of Peace. This seven-story functioning Buddhist temple houses many collections of Buddhist art and artifacts, including a bronze Buddha statue. Free guided tours of the temple and the premises are available during the summer months.
The birthplace of the United States features almost as many religious landmarks as it does historical ones. Fifteen of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence once worshiped at Christ Church, which is still a functioning Episcopal congregation in downtown Philadelphia 236 years later. Brass plaques guide visitors to the same pews that were occupied each Sunday by Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Franklin’s tomb is located in the adjoining cemetery.
The National Museum of American Jewish History offers a comprehensive look at the 350-year history of Judaism in America. Many documents and artifacts in the museum lend an eye to what Jewish life has been like in the United States. Three floors of the museum each cover a different time period in American Jewish history, while the first floor celebrates the accomplishments of various Jewish Americans.
The Presbyterian Historical Society serves as the national archives of the Presbyterian Church. Collections include books, periodicals, personal files of foreign missionaries, congregation listings, general assembly minutes as well as a biographical history of the Presbyterian Church.
At 242 years old, St. George’s United Methodist Church is the oldest Methodist church in the world that is still being used for worship. The church licensed the nation’s first African-American Methodist preacher in 1784, and offers visitors a look into its other historical events as well as a peek at church relics in the attached museum.
Independence Hall, where John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence and where George Washington was sworn in as Commander in Chief, is one of the city’s top historical sites. The building’s Assembly Hall looks just like it would have when the founding fathers used it, and original copies of the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are on display.
While many historians believe that the Liberty Bell was not actually rung before the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence as tradition states, the bell was as much a symbol of unity to the early Americans as the flag is to us today. The bell’s famous crack occurred when it rang out George Washington’s birthday in 1846. While the crack rendered the bell unusable thereafter, it was taken all over the country after the Civil War to be a visual representation of American’s unity. Today the Liberty Bell is available for viewing 24 hours a day at the Liberty Bell Center.
Visitors can take a look at how and where their money is printed at the United States Mint, located just outside downtown Philadelphia. Video and audio stations provide guests with information on self-guided tours, which give views of the actual factory floor on which today’s coins and bills are produced. The coining press in which the United States’ first currency was struck in 1792 is on display in the mint’s historical section.
As America’s leading museum of Jewish regional history, the Jewish Museum of Maryland offers guests a look into the history of Jewish life both in the United States as a whole and in Maryland. The campus also includes two historic synagogues. The 176-year-old Lloyd Street Synagogue is the third oldest surviving synagogue in the United States, while the slightly younger B’nai Israel synagogue still offers Jews in the area a place to worship.
A rich history of Wesleyan tradition is on display in two of Baltimore’s historic churches. Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church is a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture. The church houses a 3,827-pipe organ as well as a labyrinth that winds more than two thirds of a mile. Lovely Lane United Methodist Church prides itself as being “The Mother Church of American Methodism.” The attached museum and archive hold many documents and historic Methodist artifacts.
The St. Jude Shrine is also located in the heart of Baltimore. Known as “The Forgotten Saint” for his name’s similarity to Judas Iscariot, Jude was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles and was often referred to as Thaddeus in the Scriptures. The patron of the desperate and hopeless, Jude’s attributes include a club and an image of Jesus Christ. He is often shown in icons with a flame above his head, symbolizing his presence at Pentecost. Catholics wishing to pray to Jude and others wishing to honor him can visit the shrine during regular hours.
The harbor’s Pier 1 is highlighted by the USS Constellation Historic Ships Museum. Visitors can board and tour the USS Constellation, the last sail-powered warship built by the U.S. Navy and the last Civil War-era boat that can still float. Other historic vessels on display include the Torsk, the World War II submarine that sank the war’s last enemy cruiser for the Allies, and the Coast Guard cutter Taney, the last floating ship that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. Several historic lighthouses have also been preserved and are on display.
Not only does Baltimore have a strong presence in professional sports, several museums within its limits are vital to preserving its history. The Sports Legends Museum attached to the historic Camden Yards baseball stadium highlights Baltimore natives Babe Ruth and Johnny Unitas along with other legendary athletes and teams. Visitors can learn more about the “Sultan of Swat” and see some of his old equipment and uniforms in the nearby Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Just outside of downtown lies the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame. Exhibits document the history and evolution of the sport since the time when the American Indians first played it, and the Hall of Fame gives honor to the sport’s greatest players and teams.
Two gorgeous cathedrals stand out in Hartford. St. Joseph’s Cathedral’s nave is lined with 26 huge stained-glass windows, while the Christ Church Cathedral is an equally beautiful option a little closer to downtown. Tours of both cathedrals are available by appointment.
The Mark Twain House was the famous author’s home for seven years, during which he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Victorian Gothic style house has stencil and carved woodwork throughout its interior. The house serves as a museum honoring Twain’s life and contains over 50,000 items belonging to him and his family.
Not far from Twain’s house lies another author’s home. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center has been restored to what it would have been like when the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin lived there. Next door is the Katharine Seymour Day House, which holds a library full of books about 19th century women’s and African-American history.
At 216 years old, the Old State House on Main Street is the oldest statehouse in the United States. This Federal-style gem served as Connecticut’s Capitol building until 1878. The Old State House is also where the Hartford Convention and the first Amistad trial took place.
Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford was the first government-sponsored public park in the United States. Today guests can still take a ride on its 98-year-old carousel, visit memorials for Civil War and Spanish American War soldiers, and enjoy over 150 different types of trees.
The historic University of Connecticut is located east of Hartford. Rated one of the top 20 colleges in the country, the 181-year-old school has a beautiful campus in Storrs. Basketball fans will find few better places to catch a game. Between the men’s and women’s programs the Huskies have won a combined 10 national championships in the last 17 years.
— By Daniel Morrill