Monumental Church

Monumental Church

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Monumental Church is a former Episcopal Church that stands at 1224 E. Broad Street
Broad Street (Richmond, Virginia)
Broad Street is a 15-mile long road located in the independent city of Richmond, Virginia and adjacent Henrico County. Broad Street is significant to Richmond due to the many commercial establishments that have been built along it throughout Richmond's history...

 between N. 12th and College Streets in Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. Designed by architect Robert Mills
Robert Mills (architect)
Robert Mills , most famously known for designing the Washington Monument, is sometimes called the first native born American to become a professional architect, though Charles Bulfinch perhaps has a clearer claim to this honor...

, it is one of America's earliest and most distinctive Greek Revival churches and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

, is a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 and is located in the Court End
Court End
thumb|250px|right|1000 block E. Clay StreetCourt End is a neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia that sits to the north of the Capitol Square and East Broad Street...

 historic district.

Monumental Church was built between 1812 and 1814 to commemorate the 72 people who died on the site in the December 26, 1811 Richmond Theatre fire
Richmond Theatre fire
The 1811 Richmond Theatre fire occurred in Richmond, Virginia, United States on December 26, 1811. It devastated the Richmond Theatre, located on the north side of Broad Street between what is now Twelfth and College Streets. The fire, which killed 72 people including many government officials, was...

. The building consists of two parts: a crypt and a church. The crypt is located beneath the sanctuary and contains the remains of those claimed by the fire. The church is an octagonal construction of brick and Aquia sandstone with a stucco coat.


The site of Monumental Church was known initially as the first Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences in America, or "The Theatre Square." Chevalier Quesnay de Beaurepaire, a French officer in the Revolutionary army, had developed the idea for the academy but the plan was abandoned due to the war. In 1786 on this site Richmond's first theatre was built, which had the appearance of a "barn-like building." The Virginia Ratifying Convention
Virginia Ratifying Convention
The Virginia Ratifying Convention was a convention of 168 delegates from Virginia who met in 1788 to ratify or reject the United States Constitution, which had been drafted at the Philadelphia Convention the previous year.The Convention met and deliberated from June 2 through June 27 in Richmond...

 of 1788 was held in this building beginning on June 3rd for three weeks "after first convening in the temporary capitol at Cary and fourteenth streets." Among the many individuals in attendance were James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

, John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

, James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe
George Wythe
George Wythe was an American lawyer, a judge, a prominent law professor and "Virginia's foremost classical scholar." He was a teacher and mentor of Thomas Jefferson. Wythe's signature is positioned at the head of the list of seven Virginia signatories on the United States Declaration of Independence...

, George Nicholas, Edmund Randolph, George Mason
George Mason
George Mason IV was an American Patriot, statesman and a delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention...

, Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee was an American statesman from Virginia best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and his famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States...

 and Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry was an orator and politician who led the movement for independence in Virginia in the 1770s. A Founding Father, he served as the first and sixth post-colonial Governor of Virginia from 1776 to 1779 and subsequently, from 1784 to 1786...

. This building was destroyed by fire in 1802 and the Richmond Theatre would replace it.

Following the 1811 theatre fire, the church was commissioned by Chief Justice John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 and designed by architect Robert Mills
Robert Mills (architect)
Robert Mills , most famously known for designing the Washington Monument, is sometimes called the first native born American to become a professional architect, though Charles Bulfinch perhaps has a clearer claim to this honor...

, the first American-born architect, the only pupil of Thomas Jefferson and the architect of the Washington Monument
Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is an obelisk near the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington...

 and White House of the Confederacy. Mills "had a reputation for being particularly concerned with fireproofing," probably owing to his work on Monumental, and later in his career designed Charleston's Fireproof Building
Fireproof Building
The Fireproof Building, also known as County Records Building, is located at 100 Meeting St., Charleston, South Carolina. It was designed by Robert Mills and constructed by John G. Spindle. It was completed by 1827. At that time, it was the most completely fireproof building in America and it is...

 as a testament to that fact.

Monumental Church established the first Sunday School program in Richmond on Nov. 20, 1817. Famous parishioners included Chief Justice John Marshall whose family occupied pew No. 23, Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective...

, whose foster parents the Allans were members and occupied pew No. 80, the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited Richmond in 1824, William Mayo
William Mayo
William Mayo is the name of:* William B. Mayo , former chief engineer of the Ford Motor Company* Two co-founders of the Mayo Clinic:** William Worrall Mayo **William James Mayo...

 of Powhatan and the Chamberlayne family.

Three Richmond congregations were formed from Monumental, including: St. James's in 1831, St. Paul's in 1845 and All Saints in 1888.

Deconsecrated in 1965, it was given by the Medical College of Virginia to the Historic Richmond Foundation
Historic Richmond Foundation
Historic Richmond Foundation was founded in 1956 by Mary Wingfield Scott in order to save the Church Hill area surrounding St. John's Church. It is an organization "dedicated to salvaging properties of historic or architectural value."-Preservation:...

, an affiliate of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities
Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities
Founded in 1889, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities was the United States' first statewide historic preservation group. In 2003 the organization adopted the new name APVA Preservation Virginia to reflect a broader focus on statewide Preservation and in 2009 it shortened...



The design of the Monumental Church generated a certain amount of controversy between the two architects namely, Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Robert Mills who were consulted independently by the Committee. Latrobe who had submitted his designs initially had assumed that his plan was approved by the Committee. However, the Committee approved the plan submitted by Robert Mills which combined the monument with the church. This resulted in an awkward situation for Latrobe as Mills had worked as his assistant in his office. Latrobe refused to submit any alternate plan when requested by the Committee as he felt slighted. However, he commended their decision and wrote glowingly of the Mills capability to fulfill the assignment.

Following this, there was a sequence of exchange of letters between Latrobe and Mills though not very cordial at times, with the Latrobe’s last letter of July 22, 1812 addressed to Mills ending the controversy. Mills is said to have replied stating that he was not aware of Latrobe’s plans and designs. However, the final design of Mills was adopted for the Monument Church.

Mill's plan consisted of ‘an emphatic “monumental porch”’ — thirty-two feet square as Latrobe had proposed — grafted onto an auditorium style church. The porch which Mills called the “vestibule” dominates the south elevation, and fronts upon the street. The body of the church is an octagon, one facet of which abuts the rear of the monumental porch. Within the church directly across from the doorway from the monumental church, the pulpit stands within an acoustically conceived apse, which balances the porch. This bay projects from the northern face of the octagon and was intended to serve as the base of the steeple (never executed). To the east and west corresponding bays project; these contain stairways to the balcony that circumscribe the interior, except the pulpit
Pulpit is a speakers' stand in a church. In many Christian churches, there are two speakers' stands at the front of the church. Typically, the one on the left is called the pulpit...

In architecture, the apse is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome...

 on the north face of the nave
In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the central approach to the high altar, the main body of the church. "Nave" was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting...

. A low saucer dome caps the nave, and its center is pierced by a round monitor or cupola
In architecture, a cupola is a small, most-often dome-like, structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome....

.” The monumental porch adopted “shadow, void and contrasting forms” to register a lasting impression. The design also adopted large forms with least ornamentation with the brown colour of the Aquia stone sandstone accentuating the solemnity of the structure. The placement of the large piers in the porch brought about a shaded interior. The Doric columns with fluted drums also projected out into the light. The overall effect of the porch is thus one of geometrically proportioned and balanced structure.

Present use

In 2004 Monumental Church underwent a significant renovation, during which a monument to the 72 people killed in the fire was replaced by an exact replica. The bodies of the victims are still in a brick crypt below the church.

The documentary Saving Grace-Resurrecting American History, written and directed by Emmy winning writer/director Eric Futterman, follows the process of using laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

 scanning to recreate the monument in computers, then sending the data to Ireland, where stonecutter
The craft of stonemasonry has existed since the dawn of civilization - creating buildings, structures, and sculpture using stone from the earth. These materials have been used to construct many of the long-lasting, ancient monuments, artifacts, cathedrals, and cities in a wide variety of cultures...

s used both high tech computer equipment and old-fashioned stone-cutting to create a new 7,000 pound monument.

In 2006, regular tours began, in cooperation with the Valentine Richmond History Center
Valentine Richmond History Center
The Valentine Richmond History Center is a museum dedicated to the history of Richmond, Virginia, USA, in the Court End neighborhood. It started out as an eclectic collection of Mann S. Valentine, Jr., the independently wealthy creator of Valentine's Meat Juice...

's Court End Passport. The building is open on occasion for other private functions.

External links