Christ Church / “Old North”

Old North Church

William Price, 1723

National Historic Landmark

Christ Church, or “Old North,” is the oldest church building and the second Anglican parish in Boston. Built of brick in the style of Sir Christopher Wren, it is thought to have been modeled after St. Andrew’s-by-the-Wardrobe in Blackfriars, London. Its bricks were made in Medford, and the timber came from the area of York, Maine.

The 175-foot, three-tier steeple houses a peal of eight bells, cast by Abel Rudhall of Gloucester, England, in 1744. They are the oldest church bells in America and are still rung today. At age fifteen Paul Revere formed a guild of bell ringers with six friends. The steeple has twice been toppled by hurricanes, first in 1804, after which it was rebuilt from a drawing by Charles Bulfinch, and again in 1954. The original weather vane by Deacon Shem Drowne, a colonial craftsman, still tops the spire.

Inside, the bright airy space, painted white since 1912, offers tranquility and purity contrasting sharply with the complex and animated maze of shadowed brick streets outside. The high box pews were owned by parishioners and were designed to keep the warmth of hot coals or bricks placed on the floor on wintry days. The gleaming brass chandeliers were gifts of Captain William Maxwell and were first lighted on Christmas Day 1724. At the rear gallery ticks a clock made by two parishioners, Avery and Bennett, in 1726.

Each year on the eve of Patriots’ Day, lanterns are hung in the belfry by descendants of Paul Revere or Robert Newman to commemorate the night of April 18, 1775, when Revere rode on horseback to warn Lexington and Concord of the approaching British forces. Eighteen years earlier the steeple had been the launching pad for the first flying man in America, John Childs, who in 1757 leaped from the tower with an umbrella-like contraption strapped to his back and landed safely several hundred feet away.

The controversy over whether this is the real Old North Church or whether it was in fact Second Church on North Square has never been fully put to rest. Since the end of the Revolution, the celebrations have been here.

Several peaceful small gardens cluster about the back of the church, including the Washington Memorial garden and an herb garden. The ironwork was made by inmates of the old state prison in Charlestown.