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St. Colomba's Chapel (Berkeley Memorial Chapel)

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Berkeley Memorial Chapel
1884, Wilson Eyre, Jr. Parish hall, Albert Harkness, 1959. 58 Vaucluse Ave.
  • St. Colomba's Chapel (Berkeley Memorial Chapel)

St. Mary's in Portsmouth, Church of the Holy Cross in Middletown, and now a third charming Episcopal country church, all less than half an hour from one another: such a conjunction of small country churches of such architectural distinction is unique in the state. St. Colomba's follows a formula comparable to that of St. Mary's: a masonry church set in a graveyard overarched by splendid trees, with bellcote, porch entrance at the side, and projecting chancel. But St. Colomba's is even more diminutive. It is not elevated with a long drive up to the church, but sits in a V-shaped intersection with a lych-gate entrance, suggesting that here one leaves vehicles behind and walks into the sacred precinct (although modern parking facilities make it possible to ignore the building's message). The masonry is rougher than that of St. Mary's; there is no ceremonial door at the front; the bellcote is smaller and simpler; the slate roof slopes closer to the ground. Inside is a comparable plaster and wood-beamed ceiling. The window to St. Colomba is by John La Farge. Maitland Armstrong, a disciple of La Farge, executed the chancel window dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of the Episcopal Church, as well as the tiny pointed stained glass windows ranged either side of the nave, each with a nautical sign. Opposite the porch entrance, a plaque commemorates the famous nineteenth-century actor Edwin Booth (brother of John Wilkes, Lincoln's assassin), who was an early summer resident of Indian Avenue. (His house, Boothden, is at number 357.)

Beside the lych-gate (to the left on entering) is the family plot of the architect John Russell Pope, famous for the National Archives building, the Jefferson Memorial, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the designer as well of important houses, including The Glen in Portsmouth and The Waves in Newport. Adjacent are the graves of the Providence architect Albert Harkness and his second wife. Both stones revive the colonial practice of slate slabs hand-carved—in these instances by the Benson family, carvers in the John Stevens Shop in Newport, whose heritage extends all the way back to the early eighteenth century. It was (and still is) responsible for the execution of much fine architectural lettering, including that on a number of Pope's buildings.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "St. Colomba's Chapel (Berkeley Memorial Chapel)", [Middletown, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-MI5.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 511-512.

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