Architecture Around the World

Bruton Parish Church
Williamsburg, Va.
Official Bruton Parish Church Home Page

Style: Colonial (Georgian)
1715 design / Reconstructed 1939-1940

Interior Photos

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

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Interior Photos

Completed in 1683 and dedicated the next year at the Epiphany, Bruton Parish Church was of Gothic design with supporting buttresses.

A series of events in the 1690s quickly made the church inadequate. James Blair, commissary of the Bishop of London in Virginia, founded the College of William and Mary in 1693 and remained president of it for 50 years. In 1699, the General Assembly moved the colonial capital from Jamestown to Middle Plantation and renamed it Williamsburg. The influx of students, the governor and his entourage, and the legislature, as well as townspeople overwhelmed the small church. It was, after all, now the court church of colonial Virginia.

In 1706 the vestry began considering building a larger church, and four years later the General Assembly agreed to fund pews for the governor, council, and burgesses. Governor Alexander Spotswood drafted plans for the structure: a cruciform-shaped church (the first in Virginia) 75 feet long, 28 feet wide, with 19 foot long transepts (wings.) Construction got underway under the watchful eye of James Blair, rector from 1710 to 1743 and also president of William and Mary, and was finished in 1715.

As the 18th century unfolded, Bruton increased in prominence and grandeur. It was the center of activity for both government officials and townspeople. In fact, tombstones and monuments in the church and the churchyard are tributes to royal governors, members of the council, and local leaders who are buried there. A highly prized organ, installed in 1756, became a centerpiece, and Peter Pelham, a professionally trained musician, served as organist for the next 46 years.

When they were members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, men who would lead the fight for independence and for creating a new government worshiped at Bruton. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry attended when the legislature was in session. As emotions and rhetoric heated during the years before the American Revolution, special services took place at Bruton. After the Stamp Act passed in 1765, burgesses expressed their distress in a service at Bruton. The closing of the port of Boston in 1774 touched off another protest when the burgesses marched in solemn procession to the church for a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer.

Before the end of the Revolution, Bruton's fortunes had begun to decline. In 1776 the Virginia House of Burgesses disestablished the Anglican Church by ending tax support. Four years later the capital moved to Richmond, depriving Bruton of the bulk of its membership. Still another blow fell in 1804 when the court ordered the sale of Bruton's glebe lands, which finally happened in 1813.

Poverty stricken, the church declined in communicants and the building fell into disrepair. After 1828, "modernization" got underway at great cost to the colonial beauty of the church. By 1840 the completely transformed interior bore no resemblance to the old church. Impoverished Bruton even rented out pews to generate operating funds.

After the Battle of Williamsburg in May 1862, Bruton served as a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers.

Between 1905 and 1907, the church partially returned to its original form.

Returning as rector from 1926 to 1938, Goodwin was instrumental in convincing John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to restore Williamsburg to its colonial appearance. Bruton was part of that restoration, and in 1939-1940 a complete renovation and authentic replica of the old church gave us today's magnificent building.

- Text source: Official Bruton Parish Church Home Page

Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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