A state temple and churches on grace
By Gary Flanagan
There are two choices when leaving Washington, D.C.: north to Maryland or south to Virginia. Travelling salespersons and separation researchers are not efficient in a March storm, so south we go. The first detour is the Jefferson Memorial (and yes, Thomas Jefferson is going to be a frequent companion along our many stops) and then on to his home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, arriving in Richmond in about an hour and a half.
I stopped at the visitor center and explained my state and church project. The volunteer said that I was lucky. St. Paul’s Episcopal was next to the Capitol and had lots of history. Additionally, Jefferson designed the Virginia State Capitol. A few left turns and there I was in capitol square, staring at a magnificent white temple. To the left on E. Grace St. was the equally white St. Paul’s Episcopal with a welcome sign for its famous lenten lunch. One block further on E. Grace was St. Peter’s Catholic with an active bus stop near the front steps. This time the Virginia Supreme Court was beside both the statehouse and St. Paul’s.
While governor, Thomas Jefferson moved the capital to Richmond from Williamsport for security from the British Navy. Then, while serving in France as secretary of state, he was asked to design a capitol for Virginia. As a self-taught architect, he, along with French architect Charles-Louis Clerisseau, modeled the building after the ancient Roman temple Maison Carrée.
The cornerstone was laid in 1785. After the Civil War, a collapsed balcony in 1870 that killed sixty-two and injured 251, and eight fires, the current reconstruction stands impressively over the James River.
St. Paul’s Episcopal has its roots in a theater fire on the site in 1811 that took 72 lives. Monumental church was built from its ashes. Growth led to a committee that toured Philadelphia and became inspired by the size of St. Luke’s. The committee commissioned St. Luke’s architect to design a replica for Richmond. According to St. Paul’s Episcopal current website, “The resulting building is a masterpiece of the Greek Revival style, and a stately complement to Thomas Jefferson’s temple-form capitol across the street.”
Richmond, Virginia has common characteristics at its neighboring church and state. Designed beyond its borders but resting beautifully, side by side today.