Photo by Jay Paul
It was built to memorialize what was then the country’s worst urban disaster, but now Monumental Church is being commemorated in its own right.
An Oct. 2 event hosted by the Historic Richmond Foundation (HRF) is entreating ticket holders to “party like it’s 1814” — the year that Monument Episcopal Church first opened for services — with, among other attractions, period music by the Mannheim Rocket Orchestra and a special Monumental Cocktail by Mattias Hägglund of Heritage restaurant.
The church was built on the site of the Richmond Theater, where, on Dec. 26, 1811, more than 72 people died in a blaze that shook the country. In a superstitious backlash, theater in Richmond was outlawed for eight years. Designed by Thomas Jefferson’s only architecture student, Robert Mills, Monumental holds the ashes of the fire’s victims in a crypt beneath the floorboards. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1969.
Since its acquisition by HRF in 1983, Monumental has been gradually renovated. Its latest addition, the Dr. Waverly M. Cole and Dr. John R. Cook Memorial Terrace, features a granite timeline listing the events that have taken place on the site, giving passersby an extra incentive to stop and explore. Life partners Cook and Cole gave millions of dollars to universities and charitable groups throughout Central Virginia.
HRF officials hope that the October gathering will be the first of many for the revitalized church.