• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #93: St. John's Episcopal Church, Portsmouth


Divine and holy

The Anglican faith is often dated back to 1534 and the Act of Supremacy declaring King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England, though Christianity in Britain had roots in the Roman occupations and Celtic traditions. While in the vanguard of the Protestant movement, Anglicans (and later, Episcopalians) retained sufficient Romanish theological traditions to be considered junior varsity Catholics. The first Anglican Church landed in New Hampshire at Strawbery Banke in 1638, though three years later it was disestablished by the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, whose authority included all of NH and Maine as well. Nearly a century later, in 1732, a wooden church was built on Chapel Street in Portsmouth, where the current St. John's resides, called the Queen's Chapel. Given its ties to England, the Anglican Church fell out of favor during the revolutionary era, though after the war it began to rebound (under a less royal name). In 1806 the church was consumed by the second of three great Christmas fires that ravaged Portsmouth (the others taking place in 1802 and 1813). The parish rebuilt laying the cornerstone of the current church in 1807.


It's a beautiful church, especially on the inside. The rich scarlet carpeting, the elegant white bas-relief murals, the sweeping columns. Christmas services there are particularly moving. Yet as attractive as it is, and as fascinating as I find the long history of St. John's, it's my own family history that makes it a special place to me. I was baptized there, as was my brother, and I've attended weddings there (including that of Ben and Michelle Karcz Wheeler once upon a time). But the most important event was one I didn't attend. I think I can be excused, given that it took place seven years before I was born. On May 4, 1968, my parents were married there, forty-nine years ago today.


49 years. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Looking at the happy kids in that picture with their folks, I realize that they're closer in age to my own kids than to me. Way to make a guy feel old enough to have known Henry VIII personally.

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