Essential Architecture- New England

Christ Church


Peter Harrison)


Cambridge, MA


1760-61 (H:1759-61)






  a: front and right flank, photo J. Howe.
  b: left flank and front, photo from John W. Freese, Historic Houses and Spots in Cambridge and Nearby Towns (Boston, 1897).
  c: detail, flank, photo 1990, R. Ennis (Drexel U.).
  d: interior, photo 1982, M. Brack.
Christ Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The church itself is located at 0 Garden Street, and is now a National Historic Landmark.

The congregation was founded in 1759 by members of the King's Chapel who lived in Cambridge to have a church closer to their homes and to provide Church of England services to students at Harvard College across Cambridge Common. The church's first Rector was East Apthorp, and most of the founding members lived along the near-by 'Tory Row', now called Brattle Street.

The church was designed by noted colonial era architect Peter Harrison, who also designed the King's Chapel in Boston. Its wooden frame rests on a granite foundation built from ballast stones from ships arriving at Boston Harbor. The church was originally finished in a sanded paint treatment to give the appearance of a stone church that was more in keeping with traditional English chapel construction.

During the American Revolution, Christ Church was attacked by dissenting colonials for its Tory leanings, but was also the site of a prayer service at which George and Martha Washington attended while quartered in the nearby Longfellow House. The church was closed during the Revolution, and its organ melted down for bullets.

For several years after the American Revolution, the church stood empty without congregation. However, in the later years of the eighteenth century, the church was re-opened as an Episcopal Church and has remained so until this day. The original chapel was expanded in 1857 to accommodate a larger congregation and to help raise funds for the church by expanding pew rental income. The church had ells added in the later portion of the nineteenth century and again in the mid-twentieth century into its present form.

Generations of Harvard students, from Richard Henry Dana (Two Years Before the Mast) to Teddy Roosevelt (who was asked not to continue as a Sunday School teacher because he would not become an Episcopalian) have made Christ Church their parish home during their studies.

Christ Church has a long history of social activism, supporting the civil rights movement, the peace movement, and ministries of social justice. In April 1967, the Reverend Martin Luther King and Doctor Benjamin Spock were denied access to a building at Harvard University to hold a press conference denouncing the Vietnam War. The Reverend Murray Kenney welcomed them to Christ Church. A plaque in the parish hall commemorates the event.

Society of Architectural Historians

Special thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians
for some of the images on this page (copyright SAH).