The Old North Church in Boston is best known for its tower, which famously displayed the lanterns signalling the advance of the British troops - "one if by land, two if by sea." Founded in 1723, Old North is also the oldest church standing in Boston and its bells are the oldest in any American church.
History of Old North Church
It is rather ironic that Old North Church played such a pivotal role in American revolutionary history, for it was always very Loyalist. Built in 1723, Christ Church (as it is still officially known) was an Anglican church with a Tory minister. The King of England donated silver to Christ Church that was used in services as well as a Bible.
Christ Church was the second Anglican church to be built in Boston; the first being King's Chapel in 1686. At the time, the Anglican liturgy included prayers for the king.
Although some New England Anglicans began to omit this part in support of independence, Christ Church always left the prayers in to demonstrate its loyalty to England.
But on the night of April 18, 1775, the church's steeple (the tallest in the city) was chosen to transmit an important signal to America's revolutionaries. The famous episode began when the caretaker of Old North Church climbed out of the rear window of his house to meet with the silversmith Paul Revere.
Revere reported that the British Regulars were advancing by sea, then set off on his famous ride to warm fellow patriots John Hancock and Samuel Adams that "the Redcoats are coming!"
Meanwhile, the caretaker climbed 154 steps to the top of the steeple and lit two lanterns. By a prearranged signal - "one if by land, two if by sea" - this alerted the Whigs of Charlestown, giving them time to prepare accordingly. Thus a collection box in Old North Church bears the proud sign:
Contrary to claims in some guidebooks, Paul Revere was never a church member at Old North - his family was Congregationalist, not Anglican. But he was a bell-ringer here as a young man - the church still has the contract signed by him and five other boys in 1750.
Sadly, the famous steeple that transmitted the lantern signal was destroyed in the Great Gale of 1804. Its replacement, by local architect Charles Bulfinch, reflected the original design. This steeple also fell victim to strong winds (Hurricane Carol) in 1954, and was once again replaced with a replica of the original.
What to See at Old North Church
The architecture of Old North Church is inspired by the London churches of Sir Christopher Wren. Its steeple is 191 feet tall, and was the tallest in the city until surpassed by the 217-foot steeple of Park Street Church. The white-hued interior features historic box pews, many of which have been fitted with furnishings by the families who owned them.
One of the great treasures of Old North Church is its ring of eight bells, which are the oldest bells still in a church to be found in the United States. They were cast in Gloucester, England in 1744 and hung in 1745.
One bell bears the inscription: "We are the first ring of bells cast for the British Empire in North America, A.R. 1744." The bells were restored in 1894 and in 1975 and today are maintained and rung regularly by the MIT Guild of Bellringers.
Quick Facts on Old North Church
|Names:||Christ Church · Christ Church in the City of Boston · Old North Church|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||42.366345° N, 71.054394° W|
|Address:||193 Salem Street|
|Hours:||June-Oct: daily 9-6; Nov-May: daily 9-5|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Old North Church|
- Jana Reiss, The Spiritual Traveler: Boston and New England (HiddenSpring, 2002), 86-87.
- History and Architecture - official website of Old North Church
- Old North Church - Wikipedia
Map of Old North Church, Boston
Below is a location map and aerial view of Old North Church. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.