The Seamen’s Bethel, nestled in the historic port city of New Bedford, stands as a testament to the rich maritime heritage of the region. Established in 1822, this iconic chapel has served as a spiritual haven for generations of mariners. The nearby Mariner’s Home, established in 1789, provided a welcome refuge for sailors returning from voyages.
What is a Bethel?
The term “bethel” comes from two Hebrew words, “Beth” and “El.” Beth means “House” and El means “God,” so it is a Seamen’s House of God or a Seamen’s Church.
Why was the Bethel built?
The New Bedford Port Society for the Moral Improvement of Seamen offered church services to whalemen before they shipped out on whaling voyages. Services were held either at the waterfront or in the town hall. The long-term impracticality of waterfront services and the difficulty of constantly arranging to use the town hall soon led the Port Society to conclude that they needed their own building. In 1832, the Seamen’s Bethel was dedicated as a nondenominational church and serves today in that capacity.
The Melville Connection
Because whaling was dangerous, many whalemen felt the need to attend services at the Bethel prior to shipping out on a voyage. Among those so inclined was Herman Melville, who came to New Bedford in late December of 1840 and stayed until he sailed out on January 3, 1841. While he was here, he attended Bethel services. The pew that Melville sat in at the southeast corner of the chapel is marked for visitors to view.
Hours of Operation:
Daily: Wednesday -Sunday 11am -4pm
Mariner’s Home: Wednesday-Sunday 11am-4pm