Christ Church of Philadelphia is one of the oldest churches of the Anglican Communion still standing in the United States, and is considered to be the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church. At the time of its founding in the late 1600s, it was among the first congregations of the Church of England in the colonies. For years the church building was the largest in America and for a time was the tallest building in North America. Christ Church is also famous for its historic congregation, as many of its members played a prominent role in the American Revolution.
In the late 17th century, the Church of England was growing quickly in the New World just as Philadelphia began to grow into one of the most prominent cities of the American colonies. The first Anglican church was erected in the city in 1695, but was quickly outgrown by the burgeoning congregation. It was replaced by a more permanent church in the first half of the 18th century, and largely rebuilt again in the 1770s.
During the pre-revolutionary era Christ Church became the most important church in Philadelphia and one of the most significant churches in the American colonies. It became a key meeting place for anti-royal activists, and many colonial leaders attended services here. Its congregation included Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross, and a number of its members signed the Declaration of Independence.
After the war, the Anglican Church in America faced difficulties due to its ties with the British monarchy. In the 1780s, Christ Church was the site of the establishment of the American Episcopal Church, essentially a church that was in communion with the Anglicans but not answerable to the British sovereign, making it the first home-grown American denomination.
Christ Church remained an influential center of the Episcopal Church during America’s early years. The Book of Common Prayer was produced here, and the first Episcopal bishops were consecrated here. During the 19th century Christ Church was surpassed in importance by churches in New York City and Washington DC. However, its historical prominence remains among the top among Episcopal churches, and it is arguably the most popular religious tourist site in Pennsylvania.
Christ Church is one of the best surviving examples of Georgia architecture in the United States. It was built along the lines of similar churches in London designed by famed architect Christopher Wren. Christ Church is a large structure for the time which it was built, and for years was the tallest building in North America. The exterior is a masterpiece of red brickwork which mirrors the construction of nearby Independence Hall. The steeple and belltower are still the highest in the city.
The brilliant white sanctuary is very large and an architectural tour-de-force, featuring a magnificent wraparound balcony. The baptismal font is one of the historic treasures of the church, as it was used to baptize William Penn and other early Pennsylvania dignataries. Christ Church has two burial grounds which collectively boast a number of very prominent colonial era gravesites, including Benjamin Franklin.
Christ Church is located a few blocks east of Philadelphia’s historic district, while the larger burial ground is located in the historic district a short distance from Independence hall. The church is open daily from 9:00am-5:00pm (open at 1:00pm on Sundays). It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays in winter and major holidays. The burial ground is open year-round from 10:00am-4:00pm (open noon on Sundays). Admission to the burial ground is $2 and suggested donation for the church. Web: www.christchurchphila.org (official website).
Philadelphia boasts a selection of some of Pennsylvania’s oldest and most historic Episcopal churches. The oldest church in the state is Gloria Dei Church, a former Lutheran church known as Old Swedes. The main seat of the Episcopal Church in the city is the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.