Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old North Church - Boston

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the famous poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," which really addresses the greatest fame of the Old North Church in Boston:

   Listen my children and you shall hear
   Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
   On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five [1775];
   He said to his friend, "If the British march
   By land or sea from the town to-night,
   Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
   Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
   One if by land, and two if by sea;
   And I on the opposite shore will be,
   Ready to ride and spread the alarm
   Through every Middlesex village and farm,
   Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
   Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
   Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
   Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
   Till in the silence around him he hears
   The muster of men at the barrack door,
   Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
   By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
   To the belfry chamber overhead,
   On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
   But mostly he watched with eager search
   The belfry tower of the Old North Church
   And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
   A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
   He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
   But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
   A second lamp in the belfry burns.
   The fate of a nation was riding that night;
   And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
   Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
   It was two by the village clock,
   When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
   And one was safe and asleep in his bed
   Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
   Who that day would be lying dead,
   Pierced by a British musket ball.
   You know the rest. In the books you have read
   How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
   How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
   Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
   Then crossing the fields to emerge again

General Thomas Gage had plans to send troops to arrest John Hancock and Sam Adams and capture rebel ammunition and stores in Concord and Lexington. The rebels uncovered the plot and developed their own plan to give those in the countryside fair warning. The poem memorializes the events that happened as a result, which were the beginning of the Revolutionary War. 
The Old North Church was, and still is, an Episcopal church, 
and ironically its parishioners were mostly sympathetic to the British cause. For example, see the memorial to Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines
 who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill two months after Paul Revere's ride, whose body is interred beneath the church. Pitcairn was in command of the advance party of redcoats when the first shots were fired at Lexington. In fact, the king of England gave the church the silver used at its services and a bible. This helps underscore the bravery of Robert Newman, the sexton of the Old North Church, who lit and placed the lanterns in the steeple. The revolutionary foment came primarily from members of the Congregational church, originally a nonconformist movement in England who were early on called separatists or independents. In fact, Paul Revere himself, was a Congregationalist. 
Old North Church, officially known as Christ Church, 
is in the North End of Boston. It was built in 1723, the architecture inspired by Sir Christopher Wren.
 It is now the oldest active church in Boston.
Its original steeple, the one that held the two lanterns, 
was destroyed by a hurricane in 1804 and a replacement designed by Charles Bulfinch was also destroyed by a hurricane in 1954. The current steeple is 16 feet shorter than the original and has design elements from the first and second steeple, but does retain the original weather vane. 
There are walled in pews, with doors, and seats inside, 
most with brass plaques noting their early 1720s benefactors. I love the fact that it is still a practicing church 
and that members of the church still sit in the pews, listen to music from the organ, 
and visit parts of the church 
that are otherwise off-limits to tourists during other parts of the week. Because it is a practicing church, it is not eligible for government grants that help in preservation and restoration efforts. 
A bust of George Washington was presented to the church by its warden in 1815. 
Nine years later, in 1824, when Lafayette returned to the U.S. for a visit, he saw the bust and said it looked "more like him than any other portrait." 
Obviously, the congregation had come around to the successful rebel cause by that time! 


  1. I loved this place, and I especially loved the organ, built in 1759, probably from a kit sent over from Europe. The "innards" have been completely replaced, but the "outards" are original, according to the docent sitting at the front of the chapel. She also told me the ceiling was originally blue with stars painted on it, and that there is some consideration of returning it to its former glory. That would be spectacular!

    1. Beautiful is your heart for the time to return is right :) ♥