Monumental Church

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Monumental Church
Monumental Church, Richmond, Virginia.jpg
An aerial view of Monumental Church. The Egyptian Building is just behind it. The Nursing Education building was recently demolished by MCV-VCU.
Monumental Church is located in Virginia
Monumental Church
Location 1224 E. Broad St., Richmond, Virginia
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Built 1812-1814
Architect Robert Mills
Architectural style Greek Revival
NRHP Reference # 69000326[1]
VLR # 127-0012
Significant dates
Added to NRHP April 16, 1969
Designated NHL November 11, 1971[3]
Designated VLR November 5, 1968[2]

Monumental Church is a former Episcopal church that stands at 1224 E. Broad Street between N. 12th and College Streets in Richmond, Virginia. Designed by architect Robert Mills, it is one of America's earliest and most distinctive Greek Revival churches and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a National Historic Landmark and is located in the Court End historic district.

Monumental Church was built between 1812 and 1814 to commemorate the 72 people who died on the site in the December 26, 1811 Richmond Theatre fire. The building consists of two parts: a crypt and a church. The crypt is located beneath the sanctuary and contains the remains of those claimed by the fire. The church is an octagonal construction of brick and Aquia sandstone with a stucco coat.


The site of Monumental Church was known initially as the first Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences in America, or "The Theatre Square." Chevalier Quesnay de Beaurepaire, a French officer in the Revolutionary army, had developed the idea for the academy but the plan was abandoned due to the war. In 1786 on this site Richmond's first theatre was built, which had the appearance of a "barn-like building." The Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 was held in this building beginning on June 3 for three weeks "after first convening in the temporary capitol at Cary and fourteenth streets."[4] Among the many individuals in attendance were James Madison, John Marshall, James Monroe, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, George Nicholas, Edmund Randolph, George Mason, Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry. This building was destroyed by fire in 1802 and the Richmond Theatre would replace it.[5]

Following the 1811 theatre fire, the church was commissioned by Chief Justice John Marshall and designed by architect Robert Mills, the first American-born architect, the only pupil of Thomas Jefferson and the architect of the Washington Monument and White House of the Confederacy. Mills "had a reputation for being particularly concerned with fireproofing,"[6] probably owing to his work on Monumental, and later in his career designed Charleston's Fireproof Building as a testament to that fact.

Monumental Church established the first Sunday School program in Richmond on Nov. 20, 1817.[7] Famous parishioners included Chief Justice John Marshall whose family occupied pew No. 23, Edgar Allan Poe, whose foster parents the Allans were members and occupied pew No. 80, the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited Richmond in 1824, William Mayo of Powhatan and the Chamberlayne family.[8]

Three Richmond congregations were formed from Monumental, including: St. James's in 1831, St. Paul's in 1845 and All Saints in 1888.

Deconsecrated in 1965, it was given by the Medical College of Virginia to the Historic Richmond Foundation, an affiliate of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.


The design of the Monumental Church generated a certain amount of controversy between the two architects namely, Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Robert Mills who were consulted independently by the Committee. Latrobe who had submitted his designs initially had assumed that his plan was approved by the Committee. However, the Committee approved the plan submitted by Robert Mills which combined the monument with the church. This resulted in an awkward situation for Latrobe as Mills had worked as his assistant in his office. Latrobe refused to submit any alternate plan when requested by the Committee as he felt slighted. However, he commended their decision and wrote glowingly of the Mills capability to fulfill the assignment.[9]

Following this, there was a sequence of exchange of letters between Latrobe and Mills though not very cordial at times, with the Latrobe’s last letter of July 22, 1812 addressed to Mills ending the controversy. Mills is said to have replied stating that he was not aware of Latrobe’s plans and designs. However, the final design of Mills was adopted for the Monument Church.

Mill's plan consisted of ‘an emphatic “monumental porch”’ — thirty-two feet square as Latrobe had proposed — grafted onto an auditorium style church. The porch which Mills called the “vestibule” dominates the south elevation, and fronts upon the street. The body of the church is an octagon, one facet of which abuts the rear of the monumental porch. Within the church directly across from the doorway from the monumental church, the pulpit stands within an acoustically conceived apse, which balances the porch. This bay projects from the northern face of the octagon and was intended to serve as the base of the steeple (never executed). To the east and west corresponding bays project; these contain stairways to the balcony that circumscribe the interior, except the pulpit apse on the north face of the nave. A low saucer dome caps the nave, and its center is pierced by a round monitor or cupola.”[10] The monumental porch adopted “shadow, void and contrasting forms” to register a lasting impression. The design also adopted large forms with least ornamentation with the brown colour of the Aquia stone sandstone accentuating the solemnity of the structure. The placement of the large piers in the porch brought about a shaded interior. The Doric columns with fluted drums also projected out into the light. The overall effect of the porch is thus one of geometrically proportioned and balanced structure.[11]

Present use

In 2004 Monumental Church underwent a significant renovation, during which a monument to the 72 people killed in the fire was replaced by an exact replica. The bodies of the victims are still in a brick crypt below the church.

The documentary Saving Grace-Resurrecting American History, written and directed by Emmy winning writer/director Eric Futterman, follows the process of using laser scanning to recreate the monument in computers, then sending the data to Ireland, where stonecutters used both high tech computer equipment and old-fashioned stone-cutting to create a new 7,000 pound monument.

In 2006, regular tours began, in cooperation with the Valentine Richmond History Center's Court End Passport. The building is open on occasion for other private functions.


  1. Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 19 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Monumental Church". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Richmond Times Dispatch, "Monumental Church to Observe 150th Anniversary of First Service." May 3, 1964.
  5. Weddell, Alexander Willbourne. Southern Churchman, January 9, 1932.
  6. Robert Russell, College of Charleston Department of Historic Preservation
  7. Evans, Mrs. Wm. E., "The History of the Monumental Church," 1817.
  8. Richmond News Leader, "Monumental Church." Dec 3, 1946.
  9. bryan, John Morrill (2001). Robert Mills: America's first architect. Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 97–103. ISBN 1-56898-296-8. Retrieved December 16, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Bryan, p. 104.
  11. Bryan, p. 105

External links