Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

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Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County is the most perfect surviving example of a colonial church in Virginia. It is located at the eastern end of Virginia’s Northern Neck a couple of miles north of the Rappahannock River. The church has remained virtually unchanged since its completion in 1735.

The church is closely tied to one of the wealthiest, most powerful families of colonial Virginia. It is believed John Carter first came to Virginia in 1635. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1642, the year he began acquiring property on what was to become Lancaster County. He amassed thousands of acres north of the Rappahannock River where he established Corotoman, the plantation which became the family seat. By 1654, John Carter’s name was already appearing on the vestry lists of Christ Church. The names of his eldest son, also named John, and younger son, Robert, also appeared on the list. All the Carter names were in large bold letters and appeared before that of the minister on the vestry list.

The current church was built by Robert Carter, who was to become known as Robert “King” Carter. It replaced a wooden one constructed by his father. The original frame structure was completed in July 1670, six months after John Carter’s death. He was buried in the chancel of the original Christ Church along with four of his five wives and two of his six children, all of whom preceded him. When the original building became too small for the growing population, Robert Carter offered to build a new one at his own expense. The offer to build the new church overcame some agitation amongst the parishioners to move the church to a more convenient location within the parish as well as helping to maintain the legacy of his father.

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

Construction of the new church began in 1730. There is a story that the bricks were imported from England. Although there is no definitive proof, Robert Carter had so many ships moving between England and the American Colonies that using the bricks as ballast would have been an economical way to facilitate their import.

The architectural style and shape were quite standard for the time. It is laid out in the shape of a Greek Cross with the nave slightly longer than the transepts and chancel as can be seen in the image above. However, the finishing touches are where this particular building shines. The high walls and steep roof give the church a more vertical character than is usual. The fine wooden moldings below the roof line taken from classic architectural design are of unusual fineness and complexity. The fine detail work continues in the keystones above each of the arched windows and the Doric pilasters and angular pediments that surround the doors.

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

The interior details match the exterior in both quality and longevity. The stone pavers on the floor together with most of the woodwork are original. All of the woodwork is solid black walnut. Of particular note are the altarpiece, Virginia’s only surviving high-backed box pews and one of only two triple-decker pulpits to survive from the period: community announcements were made from the bottom tier, the Gospel read from the middle tier and the sermon given from the top tier. The elaborate sounding board above the upper tier helped amplify what was always the most important part of any service held in the church. The grave marker of John Carter, his wives and children can be found to the side of the chancel providing further evidence that this church was constructed on the site of its 1670 predecessor.

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County, Christ Church Road, Weems, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

Robert Carter died in August 1732. His sons John, Charles and Landon oversaw the completion of the church. He is buried in a large limestone sarcophagus outside the east end of the church. Next to this is a smaller sarcophagus for his second wife, Betty, who died in 1710 and beyond that another, slightly smaller sarcophagus for his first wife Judith who died in 1699.

Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County is the only colonial era church erected by one man rather than by subscription of the parishioners. It is also only one of that period which has remained completely unaltered. It is now managed by the Foundation for Historic Christ Church, Inc., a charitable foundation created in 1958 to restore and maintain the church and its surroundings. Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County was designated as a National Historic Landmark in May 1961.  It was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1966.

Colonial Churches of Virginia by Don W. and Sue Massey is one of the best resources covering all the colonial churches still in existence in Virginia.  It has information on over 50 churches from 1632 to 1791, most of which are still in use for weekly services.  The information in this book is the main source for this post along with the entry in the National Register of Historic Places.

Summary
Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County
Article Name
Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County
Description
Christ Episcopal Church Lancaster County is the most perfect example of a colonial church in Virginia remaining virtually unchanged since completion in 1735
Author
Publisher Name
Mark Summerfield
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