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HISTORIC ST. LUKE'S CHURCH:
The History, Gothic Architecture, Continuing Symbol, and TIMELINE

The History
Venerable Historic St. Luke's, Mother Church of Warrasquoyacke Parish (later called Isle of Wight) was affectionately known as "Old Brick Church" long before it was given its present name in 1820. It is the oldest existing church of English foundation in America and the nation's only surviving Gothic building. It forms a unique bridge between the early civilization of our country and the rich culture of Medieval England. Its structure reflects the architectural and spiritual descendents of the great Gothic cathedrals of England.

By tradition and recollection of the first Vestry Book, "Old Brick Church" is dated to 1632. It closely relates to the Tower Church at Jamestown, dated circa 1638/39. As was common at the time, it took four or five years to erect such a church; and the finishing of the interior fittings required an additional number of years, even in this parish, already numbering 522 persons in the year 1634.

In 1640, John Day (direct ancestor of Henry Mason Day, the first President of the foundation) came from England with his own fine household furniture and personal servants.

East Window

Baptismal Font

Colonel Joseph Bridger of "White Marsh" long associated with "Old Brick Church", a man of significant wealth, and a member of the Council of State to Charles II for Virginia, is known to have settled in the parish at least as early as 1657.

According to tradition, Colonel Bridger brought members of the Driver family from England to do "finish" work on the church. Colonel Bridger was given increasing acknowledgement for the important contributions he made in bringing the church to completion. His remains, relocated to the church in the 1890's, are in the church's chancel marked by a basalt ledger stone. By the Order of Assembly issued in March 1623, this parish was one of only four locations, other than Jamestown, where the General Court of the Colony was permitted to convene. Since the Court convened in the church, there was urgency to make it suitably reflect this important function. The "Lord Governour and Captaine Generall" would be present and, during their stay, attend church service. The high box-pews were designated for their use.

Those who first assembled in "Old Brick Church" knew much of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe and Powhatan, who were regarded as their contemporaries. They also suffered through the tragic Indian Massacre of 1622, which wiped out nearly a third of the Virginia settlers. Nathaniel Bacon, the scourge of Governor Berkeley, passed not far from "Old Brick Church" on his way to burn Jamestown in 1676.

 

The Architecture

Historic St. Luke's Church has the oldest Gothic architecture in America. Among the Gothic features are buttresses, stepped gables, brick-traceried windows, and the medieval tie-beam timber interior roof structure.
Several years lapsed between the construction of the church and the completion of its interior architecture, perhaps as many as twenty-five. The temporary forms were replaced with the permanent Jacobean fittings by Colonel Bridger circa 1660. In the meantime, new settlers brought knowledge of changing architecture in the Mother Country, "England" as evidenced in the nearby Jacobean mansion, "Bacon's Castle" (c. 1665).

The Jacobean finishing of the interior of the church contains Tuscan columns formed from the trunk of a tree and turned balusters of the rood screen and kneeling rail. The design and joinery of the interior architecture is exquisite and represents highly skilled craftsmanship.

A Continuing Symbol

For nearly four centuries, Historic St. Luke's Church has persevered through war, destruction, misuse and abandonment, witnessing the great events of our nation's history. Within its walls, echoes can still be heard of our Founding Fathers who first established a foothold in America in 1607. This house of worship welcomed New World colonists, Revolutionary War and Confederate soldiers down through the ages. Spared by time and the hands of men, this ancient church, in spite of the vicissitudes of history, has been a place of worship, refuge and ceremony.

Down through the ages, the great and the humble figures through time have journeyed to Historic St. Luke's Church and paid their respects, thus making it a continuing symbol of the history of our nation.  

Pulpit


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