Monday, December 7, 2015

12 interesting facts about Christ Church, Alexandria, Va.

Christ Church has a long history in Alexandria, Virginia. Dating back to the 18th century, the church is still very active today with more than 2,200 parishioners. 

Located in the section of Alexandria now referred to as “Old Town”, visitors are welcomed to pray, take a tour or just visit.  I like to stop by Christ Church when I’m in Old Town or visit its gift shop. I thought for today’s post I’d share some interesting facts about Christ Church.

12 interesting facts about Christ Church in Alexandria, Va.

1. Construction of Christ Church began in 1767 and was completed in 1773. The build was started under the direction of John Parsons, but the last year of construction was overseen by John Carlyle, a prominent presence and founder of Alexandria (Carlyle's history and home are very interesting).

2. The church’s bell tower was built in two phases, the addition was added around 1820.

Christ Church's bell tower in 2015

3. A wine-glass pulpit and Palladian chancel windows are still present to this day. The pulpit is a replica. According to Christ Church:
"No record remains of the exact location and design of the earliest pulpit, but the wineglass pulpit, installed during the 1890s restoration, is consistent with the design, location, and liturgical practices of the period when the church was built."
4. There are hand-lettered Tablets located on the altar. These Tablets are in amazing condition as these are the originals and have not been retouched. According to the church's website, they were once white, but have yellowed over time. The Apostle’s Creed, Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule are written on the Tablets. 

This photo was taken around 2009
5. George Washington was a member of Christ Church. His pew is marked with a plaque. On Apr. 12, 1804 George Washington Parke Custis (Washington's step-grandson and adopted son) presented one of Washington's bibles to Christ Church. 

Note/Update: In October 2017 Christ Church decided to remove the the plaques and markers honoring George Washington and Robert E. Lee from the pews. For more information about the reasoning and their plans for the plaques, see their letter [PDF].

6. The first Sunday School at Christ Church was established in 1818-19 and the first Parish Hall was built in 1822.

7. Robert E. Lee and his family were also parishioners. He was confirmed at Christ Church. 

8. Alexandria residents were buried in the graveyard at Christ Church until local laws changed in 1809. There were two exceptions made. The tombstones seen in modern day are originals, but may not be in the precise original spot. These were moved during the Civil War by Union soldiers and stacked against the Parish House until after the war.

9. The Union Army took charge of Christ Church during the Civil War and was used for services. During those years Christ Church's parishioners had to move to other churches to worship. Little change was made to the Church itself and the church was given back in 1866.

10. It is customary for Presidents of the United States to visit Christ Church at some point during their term (this tradition started sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century I seem to remember hearing – I will have to dig deeper or ask about this).

11. Christ Church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

12. Tours of Christ Church are docent-led and the docents provide lots of interesting history.

Visitors can come visit daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are also welcomed to worship or pray, there are three services on Sunday. Christ Church is located on 118 North Washington St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.

Aug. 20, 2016 update - My original #7 was incorrect as Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis were married at Arlington House not at Christ Church. This is now omitted. A special thanks to Janet for clarifying some details and sharing helpful insight. 


  1. What a fascinating place. It is too bad about the tombstones being moved but I guess saving them was more important.

    1. It is a beautiful church. It is a shame, but I was thinking at least they were preserved unlike so many other things during the war.