HOLMBERG: Monumental task for Monumental Church in Monument City

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Richmond is known as a City of Monuments, but one of its least-known monuments is one of its most renowned.

Monumental Church is considered to be the second most historically significant building in Richmond, after Thomas Jefferson’s State Capitol building.

It’s being restored to its initial greatness – at least as close as possible – for its 200th anniversary late this year . . . right down its original paint scheme.

Monumental Church was built 200 years ago to commemorate the 72 people who died on this exact site during the infamous 1811 Richmond Theatre fire. Their remains are buried in a crypt below.

The church was commissioned by Chief Justice John Marshall and chiefly designed by architect Robert Mills, the man behind the Washington Monument in DC. Mills is considered to be the first American-born architect and a man schooled and greatly influenced by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was fond of architectural finishes that made plaster look like marble, or pine like mahogany.

Elaine Tucker-Haviland, a local expert in historic architectural decorative painting shows how she does it in our video report.

And we also got to wander around and film this building, one of America’s earliest and most distinctive Greek Revival churches and an important domed structure.

It’s owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation and the restoration is being underwritten by Neil and Sara Belle Novermber, explained Leslie Naranjo, director of Preservation Services for HRF.

There’s a safe, winding staircases, many arched windows, domed masonry and, of course, a domed roof that once was a high point on the Richmond skyline.

2 comments

  • Meredith Henne Baker

    Thank you for linking to my website (www.theaterfirebook.com) at the bottom of your article! Readers are welcome to browse and learn more about the victims of the fire, the city of Richmond in the early 19th century, the controversies around the building of Monumental Church, and my book, “The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America’s First Great How wonderful to see up close the beautiful restoration work currently underway at Monumental Church–I’m glad you’re covering this historically important project.
    Those interested in Monumental’s history may find an interesting source in George Fisher’s book “History and Reminiscences of the Monumental Church,” out of print but available on google books.

  • Tom Driscoll

    Part of Henley Street Theatre Company and Richmond Shakespeare’s “Scandals and Tragedies: Theatre in the Headlines of History” series of dramatic readings coming next season:

    On December 26th, 1811, an excited crowd of theatergoers had packed themselves into the Richmond Theatre to see a double bill of a play and a pantomime.

    The play was “The Father, or Family Feuds”–a translation from French comedy by Diderot–about a young nobleman who falls in love with a poor girl. His family threatens to send her to a convent—and much hilarity ensues. The pantomime that followed it was “Raymond and Agness, or The Bleeding Nun”—a Gothic story of the Bleeding Nun who haunts the castle of Lindberg.

    On that fateful night, 518 adults and 80 children were enjoying the performance in the Richmond Theatre on Broad Street, when a chandelier in the theatre started a fire. The flames were fed by the hanging drops on the stage and soon roared out of control. The audience panicked and stampeded the doors. 72 died in the fire: 54 women and 18 men, including Governor George William Smith, and former Senator Abraham Venable. It was the worst urban disaster of all time in the country.

    Presented in January 2015 (location to be determined)

    http://henleystreettheatre.org/2014-2015-season

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