Historic Richmond Foundation is hosting a party to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Monumental Church, the memorial to the Theater fire victims. According to Richmond Magazine: the “Oct. 2 event hosted by the Historic Richmond Foundation (HRF) is entreating ticket holders to “party like it’s 1814” — the year that Monument Episcopal Church first opened for services — with, among other attractions, period music by the Mannheim Rocket Orchestra and a special Monumental Cocktail by Mattias Hägglund of Heritage restaurant.”
So what WAS happening 200 years ago? Construction had begun over a year earlier and the church was nearly finished in early 1814. That April, the church sold pews to raise funds. In May, during a convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia, Richard Channing Moore, D.D. was elected Bishop of Virginia.
The beloved Rev. Buchanan performed a memorial service and Rev. Wilmer gave the sermon on May 4th during the convention. The Virginia Patriot of Saturday 5/7/1814 reported of the service: “It is well known that the church is built on the site of the theatre, and over the ashes of those who were consumed on that memorable conflagration, characters the most amiable and worthy that adorned society. It was heart-rending to those who witnessed the calamities of that night, the woes of which gave birth to the occasion, to see the relatives of the many victims who fell, as they entered, express their sensibility. There were few present, of a considerable congregation, who did not call to mind the endearments of a lost relation or a dear friend.”
Monumental would be New York transplant Rev. Moore’s base of operations. He began his duties as Bishop of Virginia and rector of Monumental in October of 1814, and would serve there until his death 27 years later. The Richmond Enquirer noted that the church was consecrated in early November, 1814, and in his first act as Bishop, Moore delivered the sermon.
Although he was certainly a breath of fresh air and responsible in large part for a revival of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, Rev. Moore was not without his shortcomings (especially as far as we historians are concerned). His successor, Rev. William Norwood noted in his log book: “During the twenty-seven years of Bishop Moore’s rectorship, the interesting history of the congregation has been lost, in consequence of the failure of the rector to keep a parochial register. At the time of Bishop Moore’s death, a very imperfect list of the communicants of the congregation was the only parochial record that could be found. And the present rector…is satisfied that no register of the congregation was ever kept. This statement is made in order to account for the extraordinary fact that there is no earlier register of so important a congregation…”
While the early history may remain a bit of a mystery, it is certainly worth celebrating Monumental’s positive impact on Richmond and the fascinating history of Monumental’s early years that we have been able to gather. Read my book for more on the early years of this church.