The History of St. Luke’s Church
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. Historic St. Luke’s Church is a continuing symbol of the history of our nation.
The Old Brick Church
Venerable Historic St. Luke’s, church of Warrasquoyacke County (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 descendants of the great Gothic cathedrals of England.
The “Old Brick Church” dates to 1632, by tradition and recollection of the first Vestry Book. It closely relates to the Tower Church at Jamestown, which is dated circa 1638/39. As was common at the time, it took four or five years to erect such a church; the finishing of the interior fittings required an additional number of years, even though the parish already included 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. Colonel Joseph Bridger of “White Marsh” was long associated with “Old Brick Church”. A man of significant wealth, and a member of the Council of State to Charles II for Virginia, Bridger 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. The “Lord Governour and Captaine Generall” would be present and attend church service during their stay. The high box-pews were designated for their use.
Those who first assembled in “Old Brick Church” regarded Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, John Rolfe, and Powhatan 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.
Historic St. Luke’s Church is the oldest Gothic building 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 more permanent Jacobean fittings by Colonel Bridger circa 1680. In the meantime, new settlers brought knowledge of changing architecture from England, as evidenced in the nearby Jacobean mansion, “Bacon’s Castle” (c. 1665).
Restored in the 1950’s Restoration, the Jacobean finishing of the church interior 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.