J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christ Church in Cambridge Turns 250

In August, one of the stops on my walking tour of Cambridge as a seat of civil war was Christ Church, the city’s oldest surviving house of worship. At the time, however, the building looked decidedly modern because it was sheathed in scaffolding and dust walls.

As the photo at the left shows, that construction concluded this fall in time for the church’s anniversary. This Associated Press dispatch in the Boston Globe explains:
The building, designed by famed Colonial architect Peter Harrison, opened Oct. 15, 1761, two years after Anglicans in Cambridge founded the congregation so they could attend a church closer than King’s Chapel in Boston. The original members wanted to it look like a typical limestone church found in southern England. But, lacking the stone, it was painted tan and the boards were molded to look like masonry to resemble it as best it could.

Members decided the same look would be “quite of a leap of faith” today, Allen said. The new coat of platinum gray paint matches the traditional New England Colonial style, though few colonists welcomed the church when it first opened.

And as the Revolution approached, suspicions deepened about the wealthy Tory congregation and its loyalty to the British crown. The congregants were eventually forced to flee, and the building became a barracks across from Cambridge Common, where the Minutemen assembled before the Battle of Bunker Hull and during the Siege of Boston.

The church did hold a few notable services during the war years. In 1775, Martha Washington, an Anglican, arranged for a New Year’s Eve service, which was also attended by her husband, George Washington, who would become president 14 years later. Then, in 1778, it opened for a funeral for a British prisoner of war who’d been accidentally killed. But this became an occasion for the church to be trashed by townspeople in a wave of anti-British sentiment.

The pulpit, pews and a communion table were destroyed, the windows were shattered and shots were fired — a bullet hole that remains inside is thought to have been left by the outburst.
On 15 October, the Christ Church congregation will celebrate the 250th anniversary of their building. This week I’ll share some sources about its history.

TOMORROW: Martha Washington’s service.

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