In Marblehead, St. Michael’s Church will celebrate its 300th anniversary. This is the oldest Episcopal Church in New England still conducting services in its original building, erected in 1714. Its first minister, supplied by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, arrived from Britain the next year, and the building grew with a new roof in 1728.
In that century Marblehead was the second-largest town in Massachusetts, with its own port. The townspeople were more focused on fishing and trading than the farmers of rural towns, and more open to immigrants and Anglicans. Still, the Rev. George Pigot’s sermon defending the celebration of Christmas in 1728 prompted a pamphlet war.
The reredos or altarpiece inside the church is thought to date to 1714. Other eighteenth-century artifacts include the twelve-branched chandelier, donated in 1732 by a Customs official in Bristol, and a 1745 silver flagon.
According to the church’s website, “St. Michael’s first bell was hung in 1718. When news of the Declaration of Independence broke out in 1776, it was rung so hard by fervent patriots that it cracked.” (Those Patriots, who were probably not part of the congregation, also pulled down the royal coat of arms.) The bell in the tower today was cast by the Paul Revere & Sons Foundry in 1818.
In the coming year, historians of early America and architecture will present a series of public lectures about the church’s history. Musicians will perform concerts on its organ. On 7 June there will be a scholarly symposium produced with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. The 28 September anniversary worship service will include the Bishop of London, whose predecessors oversaw St. Michael’s Church up until the Revolution.