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North view of Christ Church about 1900
Christ Church around 1900

For more than 300 years, a church has stood at the present site of Historic Christ Church. The first church constructed here, most likely a wood-framed structure, was built under the direction of John Carter and finished in 1670. In 1730, John's son Robert "King" Carter, colonial Virginia's most powerful planter, proposed to build a brick church here at his own expense, which the vestry of Christ Church Parish accepted.

Finished in 1735, Christ Church was the most finely crafted Anglican parish church in all of colonial Virginia. The church’s detailed brickwork, particularly the molded-brick doorways, had few rivals in Virginia and perhaps colonial America. The classical, full entablature was among the most sophisticated produced in the colony. With towering brick walls, vaulted ceilings, and large compass-headed windows, Christ Church cut an imposing figure in a Virginia landscape dotted by small, frame, earthfast buildings. On the interior, the superb high-backed pews, triple-decker pulpit, walnut altarpiece, and stone pavers gave the church a character unique among colonial houses of worship. No doubt it was one of the most astonishing buildings many colonial Virginians would see throughout their entire lives.

To members of Christ Church Parish, however, the church was more than just an architectural wonder or place of worship. The Anglican church was the official, established church of the colony, and parish residents were taxed to support it. Like the county courthouse, the colonial church was an important center of Virginian's social and political world.

View from west door looking east to the altarpiece
View from west door

Southeast view of Christ Church showing parts of Carter tombs on east side of church
Southeast view of Christ Church circa 1886

Sundays were a major public event in the life of the community. Residents spread across the parish came together to exchange news on everything from tobacco to the latest English imports. Laws from the assembly and proclamations from the governor were posted on church doors or read from the pulpit. The social functions of the church included registering births and deaths, supporting the poor and orphaned, regulating moral conduct, and processioning property boundaries. In a world where few people traveled outside parish or county lines, the church provided invaluable community information in addition to spiritual guidance.

Today, Christ Church is the best preserved of colonial Virginia's Anglican parish churches. It is the only church from colonial Virginia to retain its original high-backed box pews, and it is one of only two with its original triple-decker pulpit. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, Christ Church is a remarkable legacy of our colonial heritage.

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