One of the most beautiful hidden spots in Newport is the Seamen’s Church Institute’s Chapel of the Sea. Hidden on the second floor of the 1933 building, it features colorful frescoes of maritime scenes from the bible, like Jonah and the whale and Noah and the flood. Its stone tile floor depicts the bottom of the sea, including sea shells and seaweed designs. An intricately carved sailcloth altar incorporates nautically-themed scenes from Christ’s life.
The Seamen’s Church Institute was founded in 1919 to provide basic assistance to mariners. Its present home wasn’t constructed until 1930. The Georgian Revival building with its rich collection of artwork, rich rugs, and comfortable furniture might be reminiscent of a private club, but it’s far more than that, and it’s open to everyone.
The main purpose of the institute is to serve the needs of the seafaring community and the public, John Feld, superintendent of the institute, said.
Their motto is “Serving those connected to the sea and offering compassionate assistance to individuals and families.” That can mean providing temporary lodging, food, mail collection, listening, and referral services, especially for those who are stranded in Newport without contacts. In this modern age, that can also include fax and internet access and scholarships for students who are focusing on maritime studies.
They have a number of outreach services like the Soup to the Docks program, which brings food to hungry workers at the docks both in Newport and Galilee. Lately, the recently renovated building has opened up rooms for the general public to stay in. Their online booking feature went live on their website in June.
The Seamen's Church Institute also offers a space to quietly relax, or enjoy a meal.
The Aloha Café serves breakfast and lunch daily. It specializes in soups and sandwiches. The menu changes daily and will prepare box lunches for groups of five or more for those who order ahead. Visitors can eat either indoors next to the fireplace with its six by six foot mural of Narragansett Bay, or outdoors at one of the Memorial Garden’s tables.
Upstairs, next to the chapel, there are plenty of chairs and long tables to read or work at in the library. The view of the busy wharf below is an added bonus. Community organizations, businesses, and even the Naval War College hold meetings and classes there.
Master Chief Byron Franklin of Newport just finished giving a course in Star Finding and celestial navigation which was free and open to the public. It was the unique venue for “Talk with the Artist” lunches during “Spring into Art” in April.
The Chapel of the Sea is available for weddings and special events.
Though the Institute is such a treasure in Newport’s life, it’s easily overlooked by those who may feel it’s just for old salts who need a hand.
According to Feld, “We just do our work quietly here.”
To learn more, check out their website.