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Abingdon Church

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c. 1751–1755; later remodelings. U.S. 17, 1 mile south of White Marsh
  • Abingdon Church

One of the most sophisticated of mid-eighteenth-century Virginia churches, Abingdon should be compared to nearby Christ Church, Lancaster (see entry, above). The church has a Latin-cross plan, a form first used in Virginia at Bruton Parish church in Williamsburg in the 1710s and repeated in nearly a dozen other parishes over the next fifty years. The dimensions are extraordinarily large, 80.5 feet east to west and 75.5 feet north to south. All four arms have the same width, 35.5 feet on the outside, which on the interior helps to minimize the isolating effects possible with narrower wings. The walls are laid in a Flemish bond with glazed headers, and all three of the doorways exhibit high-quality molded and rubbed bricks. The west doorway, with its pilasters and segmental pediment, is frequently illustrated in publications. The three entrances retain their original, paneled folding doors. The window frames are decorated with fluted pilasters rather than the more typical molded architraves.

Closed with disestablishment, the building suffered. The church was reconstituted in 1826 and then damaged during the Civil War. Repairs were undertaken at various times. Hence the dating and originality of portions of the interior are controversial. The most notable early features include the galleries in the north and south arms and an enormous wooden reredos in the chancel in the east. The reredos may date from c. 1755, but its provenance is speculative; it may have come from another church. Originally it stood on the east wall. The large broken triangular pediment with a pineapple in the center, carried on a complicated entablature supported by two Corinthian columns, represents some of the finest colonial carving in Virginia. The pulpit originally stood in the southeast corner of the crossing. Repairs in 1897 changed the roof and ceiling form, and the reredos was reconfigured to form a small vesting room behind the chancel. The last major renovation occurred in 1986, when the floors were taken up and rebuilt and the sash repaired. The pews are more recent.

The churchyard walls on the east, west, and portions of the south date from the eighteenth century. The gates are new. Among the tombs are several eighteenth-century examples for the Burwell and Page families. Many of these were moved in the twentieth century from sites on local plantations, such as nearby Rosewell. Nearly all the gravestones were fabricated in England, since Virginia possessed neither the appropriate carving stone nor the carvers.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Richard Guy Wilson et al.
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Citation

Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Abingdon Church", [Hayes, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VA-01-PE37.

Print Source

Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont, Richard Guy Wilson and contributors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 345-346.

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