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Cathedrals in Southeast New England

Back in November 2016, after relocating to southwest Florida from the San Francisco Bay Area after 28 years, I returned to my native city of New York to visit the 21 cathedrals I'd identified (subsequently, I have 7 more for the list). After seeing friends, taking in culture, and photographing these churches in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I headed to Connecticut and visited friends and family, as well as 5 cathedrals in Hartford and points west. That left me with the Cathedral of Saint Patrick in Norwich. Continuing my journey on Monday morning, I followed Route 2 southeast to the stately stone structure.

Cathedral of Saint Patrick, Norwich Ct

Just from the outside, standing in the small Monsignor King Memorial Park across Broadway, I could tell this was a well cared for and loved church. Silver-gray granite stone faced the visible structure, with a single five-story tall steeple at the south corner, and two smaller towers at the front and back of the north side. Tall arched windows were placed above the main doors with slate steps leading up from a wide sidewalk. The vestibule was dark, albeit with a rib vault and stairs at either end to the loft. But once inside the nave, my socks were knocked off! I likened it to the "Painted Ladies", the Victorian homes of San Francisco, where tastefully selected colors had been painted on the multiple surfaces. Two sets of burgundy columns supported the vault over the central and side aisles, which was painted a pale blue. From the crowns of these columns, the ribbing rose up into the ceiling, painted a soft white with gold tracings. Light poured in from the large side stained-glass windows, causing the crossing to glow with a golden light. A baldachin of four dark brown columns rose above the main altar table, reflecting in the polished white marble central aisle. To the left of the altar sat the wooden cathedra, with an elaborate wooden canopy. Behind on the east wall was a huge mosaic of the crucifixion, designed to look like a stained-glass window.

The fine touches - stenciling on the nave columns with Christian symbols, the gold included in the bosses in the ceiling joinings, the finely carved capitals over the columns with small statues of angels, even the inclusion of older oil paintings in the arches of the transept: I was amazed. A parishioner who had approached me initially to ask if I needed the lights on, explained to me that about 10 years ago, seemingly spontaneously, members of the parish had raised the moneys

to refurbish the interior. A lesson that I'd seen again and again in Europe, that you can take something older and purpose it, rather than tearing it down to replace with new. He related that the columns were painted as they were to resemble trees, with the ceiling blue as the sky. A natural feel was the goal.

Mass at St Patrick's was about a hour off when I finished my explorations and photographing, so I took off to the east on US6 after heading north from Norwich, skirting Providence and crossing Rhode Island into Massachusetts. After driving across the bridge spanning the Taunton River, I headed to St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Fall River. From the parking lot across Second Street, I had a good side view of the north-facing stone cathedral. I'd read online a local newspaper's story of the deteriorating state of the building, and as I walked the exterior, I could see paint peeling on wooden window sashes, bits of mortar missing between the stones.

St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Fall River MA

Entering the building, I found it dark despite Mass just being concluded with the priest's blessings and dismissal. (Fortunately, the Nikon adapts extremely well to low light conditions.) Similar in size to St Patrick's, the dark wood of the vault, the light cream colored walls and columns left me feeling that it was dated and dark. Even with clerestory windows, the somberness of the place was almost oppressive. I did get some flattering shots, including from the rear choir loft, but I think the contrast was too stark for me to appreciate the church.

Leaving, I crossed back to my parked rental car. Thinking to find lunch, as the Lizzie Borden house was down the street and I was near downtown, I began pulling up options. An older woman, quite short, came up to me. We'd spoke briefly after Mass, but she obviously wanted to talk more. Haranguing me, actually, I was left stunned (oppressed?) and decided to just return back across the river to find my lodgings in Somerset. Jillian's Sport's Pub and Grille was across the parking lot, so I went in for a Whalers (Rhode Island lager) and a Buffalo Chicken Salad, which turned out to be hearty and tasty. I had a second draft, Devil's Purse, which was nearer an IPA.

As I'd only packed half on one of my essential supplements, I had to head out to the local CVS, and hoped to find a place for dinner. But I returned to Jillian's and had a half-pound of boneless wings (center, above) and a cheeseburger, accompanied by a Captain's Daughter, a double IPA. Back to my room, the setting sun looked brilliant, so the "cover" shot for this blog is that shot.

Tuesday morning was another gorgeous day. I checked out and jumped onto I-195 into Providence, with the Roman Catholic cathedral my first objective. I wound up with street parking, using the internet to pay for 2 hours. Up the stairs of Cathedral Plaza, I came to the cathedral to find workmen and some scaffolding. Told the church would be open an hour before midday Mass, I was sent off to find coffee for 80 minutes. Checking for the distance to the Episcopal cathedral, I felt it was walkable and set off.

Crossing the Providence River where is junctions with the Woonasquatucket River, I headed north on North Main Street along the Roger Williams National Memorial Park. At the corner of Church Street is the former Cathedral of Saint John.

Cathedral of Saint John, Providence RI

[In Cathedrals to the Glory of God, page 318, I'd included an exterior photo of the stained window of St John's, taken about 2003 just before it was closed for use.] I'd read that the building had been repurposed for community outreach, and hoped to get inside to see if any of the original religious nature of the building survived. It was locked, so I walked up to the diocesan office, and met the new CFO. Ed was gregarious and walked me around the block, while explaining that the building itself was in such an unstable state that access was restricted and no one had been using the building of late. On our walk I spotted some great angles, including the dome of the capitol building, so after we parted, I got a few more exterior shots.

Returning across the river pretty much reversing my earlier route, I found the workmen still touching up the flashing from the scaffold. The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul appears large from the outside, but entering into the nave from the side it revealed itself as massive.

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Providence RI

From the west side entry (the entry is to the south), across to the east transept, a large rose window glowed below a burnished gold coffered ceiling than ran the length of the nave, probably 5-stories high. At the north end (to my left) was the sanctuary, set up three steps in the white marble floor. A simple altar table, under a bronze circular candelabra, was prepared for noon Mass. Set against the back wall, where the formal high altar of the past was flanked by gold statues of the archangel saints Michael and Raphael, sat the marble cathedra. Spotlights in the ceiling made it impossible to photograph the paintings at the crossing of the four evangelists and the center depicting the Transfiguration. A large modern pipe organ filled the east transept wall, near the chapel where the sacrament reposed. Depicted above the column capitols were the evangelists again, with their symbols represented below.

The time on the parking meter was running out, so I left the cathedral and got into the car. I had a lunch date at a restaurant on South Main. Back maybe 30-35 years ago, my favorite auntie Kaybee had opened a women's clothing boutique near the restaurant we'd be at. Since I had extra time, I found a free parking spot (!) and strolled until I came to 251 South Main. Now a eclectic housewares boutique called Found, it spans her old space and the space adjoining. I spent a while strolling and browsing, as well as speaking with Stephen, the store manager. There were lots of really wonderful treasures there, but I was grateful I had a full suitcase so no new object d'art would travel south.

Hemenway's was a few more doors north, and Nina and Ann were just settling at the bar when I walked in, as the table wasn't quite ready. As Nina was driving, she had a beer, while Annie's bloody Mary looked impressive. Having discovered Oban 14 in Sturbridge, I asked and was pleasantly surprised to get a dram to nurse through my meal.

I started with Rhode Island clam chowder, as I'd only ever heard of New England and Manhattan. With a clear broth, the clams and vegetables were standouts. The girls, childhood friends of my younger sister Amy, had the cream-based version which they also enjoyed. We talked about our travels, with their recent trip to Norway informing their choice for lunch: fish and chips. It seems that cod, while plentiful in the North Sea, was difficult to find for meals in Norway or on there ship. I opted for the special: seafood Caesar salad, with two large shrimp and a half lobster tail. Ordering the shared chocolate torte for dessert (chocolate and raspberry, making it an obvious choice for me) with decaf cappuccinos around, we all were sated and ready to head on.

I drove on to Cranston for the evening. Having had three filling meals over the previous two days, I just nibbled on a granola bar and crashed.

Wednesday morning was a bit hazy and damp, but I was soon out and on the road to East Greenwich to spend the day with my former neighbor Joan. She had housesit for me during my earlier travels in 2022, so I was curious to see her new digs. A light breakfast while catching up, we soon set out to explore several neighboring towns, head to the lighthouse at Point Judith, and visit a marina/harbor or two. It was a relaxing, calm day, which I really needed, and, as Joan had just returned from a car judging event, she needed as well. We went to the local fireman's club for prime rib for dinner.

Thursday morning, after breakfast, I got into the Nissan and headed north. Traveling about 160 miles on interstates, I was at the Portland (Maine) airport well ahead of schedule and turned the car in, checked my luggage and went to wait in the small commuter airport. The first leg to Charlotte went fairly smoothly (some turbulence, but the crew appreciated the treats I gave them) and my transfer in Charlotte also went well, albeit that airport was warm and packed. The final leg to Sarasota was on time, and Nancy collected me and my gear. We were at the gate to the HOA in no time. However, due to the implementation of an area code overlay, the kiosk which should have let us into the complex was dialing only 7-digits instead of the now required 10, so I had to unload and walk the three-quarters mile with my luggage to get to the villa. Hopefully the managing agent will get that fixed quickly.

Great to be home. Nine days, 830 photos, 20 new cathedrals for me, Maine off the list of states I hadn't visited: a successful trip. [There are 5 more cathedrals in Boston to visit when my transatlantic cruise stops there, plus one newly discovered Anglican in NE Mass I just found and three in Burlington, Vermont to complete New England.]

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1 Comment

Another impressive post, Ken - thank you! Loved the reference to the Painted Ladies - and yes, you nailed that!

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