Christ Church

Under Construction

Christ Church Lancaster County, Virginia Christ Church, according to the late William G. Standard, Virginia historian, is “the most perfect example of colonial Church architecture now remaining in Virginia. With the exception of some minor details, it remains as it came from the hands of its builders and it has never been out of possession of those of the faith of its founders. The simplicity and perfection of design teach us an architectural grace that is permanent and make it one of the most striking monuments to the beauty of colonial church architecture now in existence in America.” A well known architectural historian has said, “It is of all extant buildings by far the most evocative of the great but vanished world of Eighteenth Century Virginia. Its lonely majesty perfectly is the very embodiment of glories departed.” The church is now a Registered National Historic Landmark. The Church of England was designated by English law the sole church of the Colony of Virginia. By the time of the Revolution there were 100 parishes and 250 colonial churches and chapels. All of those now in existence, about 50, are in the section of the state east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and most of them are in Tidewater, Virginia. Thirty-eight are still used by the Protestant Episcopal Church and many, including Christ Church, Lancaster County, have their original communion vessels. During the desolate years following the Revolution and disestablishment of the Church of England in the colonies, Anglican churches in Virginia were confiscated and sold by the new state government, including glebes as well as church furnishings and their communion plate. Christ Church escaped this fate when the new state government decided after much indecision, that since the church had been the gift of one man, Robert “King” Carter, it legally descended to his heirs as part of his private estate. The glebe or rector’s farm, however, was subject to the Confiscation Act of 1802 and was sold in 1815. The Episcopal Church in America went into a period of decline after the Revolution. Christ Church soon fell into disrepair and disuse. In 1836 the church was leased by the Carters heirs for 99 years to the Episcopalian (formerly the Church of England) congregation of Lancaster County. After discouraging years of patching and mending such a demanding structure by the local parish, by individual aid, by committees appointed by the Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, by various organizations including the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, and others, it was realized by 1957 that a major restoration must be undertaken if the majestic church were to be saved from deterioration to a point of no return. Early in 1958 the Foundation for Historic Christ Church, Inc., was formed by a small group from Christ Church Parish and the work of restoration started. To the dedication of old friends of the church there was added the professional guidance and help of Mrs. Helen Duprey Bullock, then Senior Editor and Historian of the National Trust for Historic Preservation at Washington as well as many other specialists in their fields. Restoration has meant the most meticulous examination of the entire structure beginning with the attic (which was in perfect condition), the replacement of some wood deteriorated beyond repair, the mending of plaster and general refurbishing, the sort of thing called “architectural dentistry” that costs but doesn't show. The Rebuilding of Christ Church When the old Christ Church built in 1669 by Robert Carter’s father John Carter needed replacement, there arose the question of moving the site of the new church to the more accessible area which is Kilmarnock. In 1730 Robert “King” Carter offered to bear the entire cost of building the new church if it were kept at the same site as the first, and “provided always the Chancel be preserved as a burial place for my family as the present Chancel is.” The gift was accepted by the vestry. Thus the grave stone of John Carter, four of his five wives and two of his children, is embraced by the present church and lies to the north of the chancel. The new Christ Church was built in the early eighteenth century, the approximate date of its completion being around 1734, two years after George Washington was born. Its donor, Robert “King” Carter, died in 1732 so he never saw the church in its finished state. Late in 1734 Robert’s son carrying on for his father, wrote to Carter’s agent in London that he hoped to finish the church “sometime after Christmas.” “There is none in this country to be compared to it,” he wrote, “but the expense occasioned thereby has been very considerable.”

Christ Church is cruciform in style. The brick walls are three feet thick and are composed of stretchers and headers set lengthwise and end wise in staggered rows or “courses” in what is known as the Flemish Bond pattern. The walls have a three-colored appearance breaking the monotony of their great height. The ends of the bricks closest to the fire in the kiln have a glazed


Earlier Pictures of the Tombs of Robert 'King' Carter and His Two Wives Betty and Judith



appearance of varied color presenting a mellowed beauty heightened by time and producing a delightful effect as the sunlight plays on the soft weathered colors. The stretchers or engthwise bricks are a soft red and provide contrast to the slightly orange shade produced by rubbing with stone especially selected bricks used to frame the windows and doors. The original communion silver of Christ Church has been preserved and is still in use. Some of it dates from the late 1600s. It is recorded that in 1720 Robert Carter ordered a silver flagon and communion plate through William Dawkins, the London merchant who marketed his tobacco. Carters will written in 1726 stipulated, “I give twenty pounds sterling to be laid out in a piece of plate for the use of the Church to be sent for and engraved according to the direction of my son John.” When Carter’s executors settled his estate after his death, among the unpaid legacies reported in 1732 was twenty pounds sterling for a “piece of silver plate for Christ Church Parish.” In colonial churches pulpits were frequently three-decker structures and that at Christ Church with its handsome sounding board, inlaid with pine, is still in

inside christ church


perfect condition. Today the moderated voice of the minister carries from the pulpit to the furthest corner of the church without the aid of modern amplification. The twenty-six high-backed pews in Christ Church, providing protection from drafts usual in unheated colonial churches, are the only complete set of such original pews remaining in Virginia. Two pews measure fifteen feet across; twenty-two will hold twelve people each and three, twenty each. One of the larger ones was reserved for Robert Carter and his family and is so marked. The very small one near the pulpit was reserved for the minister’s family. The plank floors of the pews are higher than the aisles which are the original limestone slabs. Each pew was assigned to a family who purchased or rented it.

There was no rectory such as we know it now, but a glebe or farm consisting of from one hundred to five hundred acres or more. Christ Church glebe is recorded in court records as follows: To all and whereas and Now know ye that I the said Sir Wm. Berkeley Kent. Governor...,give and grant unto ye Parish of Christ Church all ye land at a Creek formerly called Slaughters Creek and now Coll. Carters Creek 839 acres of land... From his glebe the minister could make a fair living through the sale of crops and stock, in addition to his pay as rector. If the rector were unmarried, he would be most likely to rent his glebe for income and make his home with some neighborhood family where he might tutor the young members of several families. When Robert Carter died on August 4, 1732 he was buried inside the churchyard by the east wall of the colonial church beside his two wives. Today the three ornate tabletop tombs stand restored, marking the graves of probably the wealthiest man of his time in Virginia, of Judith Armistead, his first wife, and of Betty Landon Willis, his second wife. Ever the man for detail, in his will “King” Carter prepared for his burial by ordering “my body to be laid in the yard of Christ Church near and upon the right hand of my wives, a decent funeral to be kept at my interment, a monument or tomb stone to be sent for to be erected over my grave of about the value of my last wives tomb stone, with proper Inscription at the discretion of my son John or of my other executors in case of his mortality.” For about a century these graves lay undisturbed. But in 1838 Bishop William Meade wrote in a report to the Convention of the Episcopal Church that “While the tomb of the husband is entire, those of the wives appear to have been riven by lightening, and are separating and falling to pieces.

tombs in pieces



In the 1920s a group of prominent Virginians, under the leadership of Carter descendants and the then Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. William Cabell Brown, D.D., formed a




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Much more can be said about Christ Church and its history. I know that when I approached the building in my car I was awestruck at what I was looking at. This is one of the most magnificent buildings that I have ever seen. When I got out of my car in the parking lot I just stood and stared at the magnificent beauty that laid before my eyes. This I thought was the modern day restoration of a old building. To my supprise I found out that what restoration that had been done was not really visible to my eyes. The building was in its original form. Just about all the work that had been done was not visible to the eyes. The more I walked around the building the more I could see that what they said was true. Sure there were some things that you could tell were redone, but for the most part it was all original. This building definately should go on the must see list during your lifetime. A magnificent structure indeed. I could not wait to walk around to the east side and admire the tombs of Robert Carter and his wives Judith and Betty. As I stood between the tombs again that chill came over me that here again I now stood amongst family. Then it hit me, over 250 years ago these fore fathers and mothers walked upon the same ground that I was now traveling. While I was visiting the Shirley Plantation in the James River Valley I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Mr. Hill Carter, (generation IX, the same as me), and one of the first things that he asked me was, “have you been to Kilmarnock and Christ Church yet?” I told him, “no but had intentions of being there by the end of the day.” I can well see what he ment when he said that, “this place was what Robert “King” Carter was all about. I cannot agree more.


Certificate of Registered National historic landmark
Christ Church, Lancaster, Virginia
Ref: Foundtion for Historic Christ Church 1970





Sign Outside of the grounds at Christ Church Explaining
The History of the Church



Bible That Was Originally Used At The Church