Today we’re going to learn about one of the oldest and most historically important churches in America – Trinity Church. It’s been featured in countless artworks, and is prominently the subject of Mark Lague’s Trinity Church Light. While the current structure was completed in 1846, Trinity Church was founded in 1697, well before the founding of our country.
In 1696, the governor approved the purchase of land in Lower Manhattan by the Church of England; the parish received its charter the following year from King William III… the annual rent – 60 bushels of wheat. The first church built was a modest structure on Wall Street… among those who used the church were members of the first and second Continental Congress, as well as the NY Provincial Congress which was key in the American Revolution. Sadly, the Great NYC Fire of 1776 destroyed more than 25% of the city, including the original Trinity Church.
The second church was completed in 1790, but was damaged after severe snowstorms in 1838. While it stood for less than 50 years, the church became increasingly significant as it was used by President Washington and members of his government (NYC was briefly the US Capital), as well as John Jay (first Chief Justice of the US) and Alexander Hamilton.
The current third building used by the church is the one featured in Mark’s painting…
it is regarded as one of the first and finest examples of Gothic Revival Architecture in the US. At the time of completion in 1846, it was the tallest structure in the country – it held the title until 1869 with the completion of St. Michael’s Church in Chicago. In addition to the church, the land surrounding the structure is used as burial grounds; several notable individuals are laid to rest, including Alexander Hamilton and his family, Francis Lewis (founding father), Albert Gallatin (politician and founder of NYU) and many others.
In the 300 plus year history of the church, the Trinity Parish has included eleven chapels, and their 14 acres of Manhattan real estate make them one of the largest landowners in the city… not to mention an investment portfolio worth more than $6 billion, ranking them among the wealthiest individual parishes in the world.