Christ Church is one of the best-preserved 18th century late-Georgian churches in the country. Despite slight modifications made during restorations over the years, both the exterior and interior are in their original condition, and the church has been in continuous use since it opened in 1773. Numerous historic figures attended services in the church, including George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The building was added to the List of National Historic Landmarks in Virginia in 1970.
Backstory and Context
In February 27, 1773, the building was complete, and in July George Washington attended a service at the church. By 1785 the parish was running out of funding, after the previous system of tax support through mandatory tithing was abolished by the Commonwealth of Virginia. In response the church began the controversial system known as pew rents, by which families or wealthy individuals could reserve seating for services (this system was only replaced by voluntary pledging in 1917). The chruch gradually grew in wealth; in 1815 an organ was installed in the church, made by the first organ builder in Washington, Jacob Hilbus (this organ is know held by the Smithsonian Institute), and three years later they imported a cut-glass chandelier from England. At the beginning of the Civil War the church was visited by Robert E. Lee, but after Virginia voted to secede in 1861 Alexandria was occupied by federal troops. Christ Church then became used by Union chaplains and clergy, under orders of U.S. Army General William Redding Montgomery. The parish of Alexandria only had ownership returned to them after the Civil War ended.
The original church had a rectangular plan. The Flemish bond brick walls had two tiers of windows - rectilinear windows below and arched above. A modillioned cornice supports the hipped roof, which was originally covered with cypress shingles. The congregation entered through a doorway supported by Tuscan pilasters sporting triangular pediments. Inside, the church featured two aisles flanking the central nave which leads towards a splendid Palladian window on the east wall. The floors are laid with tiles, flagstones, and pine floorboards. Between 1785 and 1818 a number of additions were made to the building, including wooden galleries and a tower with octagonal belfry. In 1950 a memorial hall was constructed.
The church is still active, holding regular weekly services and for all ecclesiastical holidays, and it is open for visitors. Within the church grounds one can find the graveyard, which contains a mass grave of thirty-four Confederate soldiers that were reinterred from Alexandria Soldier's Cemetery in 1879. These had died whilst being held as prisoners of war in federal hospitals around the city. They are also commemorated by a memorial plaque in the churchyard.