Sunday, June 3, 2007

Newport Parish Church

Newport Parish Church N36.94033 W76.58492 1682 (1632?)

Newport Parish church, locally called St. Luke’s Church or the Old Brick Church, is an architectural oddity and undoubtedly the oldest Gothic structure and the oldest Anglican church in the United States. The date of erection is a matter of debate between academics and local tradition and will be covered in another entry.

The basic building structure contains in full blown form the essential elements indigenous Virginia church architecture:

  • Orientation
  • West main entry door
  • Flemish bond and English bond
  • Water table
  • South vestry entry door
  • Rectangular, room-church plan.
  • Decorated west pediment

As well as several unique or seldom seen features of architecture that link it structurally to Yeocomico and St. Peter’s Churches:

  • Flemish / crow stepped gables
  • Covered west entranceway
  • Buttresses
  • Large, arched east window

And features surviving only in this building:

  • Y-tracery windows
  • Integral bell tower
The basic church is 60’6” x 24’3”, basically the standard size of the average Virginia liturgical edifice. The brickwork is 3’ thick at the foundation and 26” thick in the walls. There are three buttresses on the north and south walls with a Gothic shaped window located between each one. The water table is unique: I didn’t measure the height, but there are two of them instead of one – each about 2 1/2 feet high (?). There are numerous repairs to the brickwork on the walls, and there seems to be mixed bond: We noted basically Flemish bond with English bond on the buttresses, although there seem to be patches of mixed brickwork. Features such as the gables and windows show evidence of repointings at a number of locations. The gables have eight steps and superficially resemble those at Bacon’s Castle. The repairs and alterations are not surprising as the church was abandoned after the Revolution and the roof is reported to have collapsed during a thunder storm in 1887, revealing a dated brick.

The bell tower stands on the west wall, is three stories high, and was built as an integral part of the church. Its dimensions are 18’ east-west by 20’ north-south. There is a round, brick arch under a simple triangular pediment as the western entranceway leading to a replica of Yeocomico’s wicket door as the church’s entrance. The pediment over the arch is articulated by raised brick decoration and the interior of the triangle is filled with flat white plaster. On the north and south sides are oval openings three feet wide (I didn’t measure). The corners of the tower are decorated with brick quoins and between the two stories are a horizontal row of brickwork dividing them. Note that the quoins are smaller on the third story. There are green, shuttered windows on the outfacing windows and a triangular cornice surmounted by a weather vane.

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