Church's Architecture Lauded: Virginia Site Has Colonial Look Dating to 1729

Article excerpt

There are many Colonial churches in Virginia, and many are called Christ Church. But the one historians consider the "most perfect example of Colonial Church architecture remaining in Virginia" is Historic Christ Church, near the small town of Irvington. Located between Richmond and Norfolk on Virginia's Northern Neck, the town is an easy three-hour drive from the Beltway.

One reason for the Episcopal church's near-perfect preservation is the fact that no battles were fought nearby. Just as important, though, it was privately owned.

It belonged to Robert "King" Carter.

When the vestrymen of his parish decided in 1730 that a new church was needed to replace one built in 1669, Carter offered to bankroll it. It wasn't all altruism - he wanted to protect family graves. His father and four of his father's five wives (the fifth is interred in the family's native England) were buried in the chancel of the old church.

Carter insisted that the church be built on the same site as the old one. The vestrymen, who had originally planned to build in nearby Kilmarnock, agreed.

Carter died in 1732 at the age of 69, three years before the church was completed. But his legacy lives on: Since the church was part of his estate, it was spared after the Revolutionary War when the state of Virginia sold, rented or simply destroyed many Anglican churches.

The church looks today much as it did when the workmen first laid down their tools. It feels the same, too, being still without heat, air conditioning or electricity.

The architect of the building has never been firmly documented. It is thought that Christopher Wren or one of his students may have helped design it.

The building is shaped like a cross, about 70 feet long in each direction. The 3-foot-thick walls are of bricks laid in a Flemish bond pattern. The headers are a gentle red color, and bricks framing the windows and doors have an orange tone that was produced by rubbing.

The roof, slate with two pitches, resembles a pagoda. It's possible that the unique roof design has also added to the permanence of the building.

The ceiling, made of oyster-shell plaster, is 38 feet above a stone floor. …