Question of the Week
What is the name of Philadelphia's oldest Episcopal Church?
Answer: Christ Church
Founded in 1695, Christ Church on Second Street, north of Market, has a long and honorable past. Founding Fathers, such as George Washington and John Adams, worshipped there, and Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, Joseph Hewes, and other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried within its graveyard, located at Fifth and Arch Streets. For over half a century, Bishop William White served as rector of the church. In addition to his work with Christ Church, White helped form several local charitable and educational facilities, such as the Magdalen Society of Philadelphia and The Episcopal Academy.
The building that currently stands on Second Street dates to 1744. The original church was completed in 1698; but by the early 1700s, it church needed to expand to support its growing congregation. As a result, three building campaigns were held: the first between 1727 and 1732, the second between 1735 and 1740, and the final one between 1741 and 1744. The last addition to the church was its steeple, which was finished in 1754. The church became a hub of activity during the Revolutionary War, and the Second Continental Congress as a whole attended its services. Its bells were frequently rung during ceremonies and to mark special occasions, such as the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in July 4, 1776, and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution on July 4, 1788.
Today people still worship at Christ Church, and the grounds welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The site was named a National Historical Landmark by the National Park Service in 1970. It is currently maintained by the non-profit Christ Church Preservation Trust, which was founded in 1965.
Numerous images of Christ Church are available in our collections, including the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (V07) and the Society print (V89) and photograph (V59) collections. Additional resources are available in our library.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.