Uncovering History Downtown: Old Christ Church

Posted: Mar 21, 2019 10:24 pm Updated: Oct 17, 2023 10:13 am

The year is 1832. The pioneers out west lead the first wagon train across the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains. Up north, the first horse-drawn street car debuts on the busy streets of New York City. And in our little town of Pensacola, Florida, the doors of Old Christ Church are opened.

Built by an unknown architect under the hot Florida sun and the firelight of a lantern, Old Christ Church is one of the oldest surviving church buildings in the state. Its prominent steeple, arched doorways and flawless symmetry are characteristics of the Norman-Gothic architectural style. Tradition tells that Old Christ Church was modeled after the Old North Church of Boston—made famous by the historic ride of Paul Revere. 

The stately church is a focal point of Seville Square, drawing your eye to its white brick facade seen through the low hanging branches of historic live oaks and Seville orange trees. Many famous Pensacola inhabitants, whose names are commonly seen on street signs, witnessed the same beauty and contributed their efforts to the church congregation. Prominent Pensacolians Dr. John Jackson Scott, the Baars and Aiken families, Dr. Percival Whaley and P.K. Yonge were members of the congregation during times of peace, war and growth. 

Old Christ Church has not solely been a place of worship in Pensacola’s history. It is also a burial ground and reminder of the hardships of the Civil War. Three former rectors, Joseph Saunders, Frederick Peake and David Flower, are buried underneath its vestry. At the outbreak of the Civil War, just two families in the congregation remained in Pensacola—the others fled to Alabama until the war’s end. Federal troops converted the church into a hospital, barracks and stables. When the parish families and rector finally returned from exile and began to rebuild their lives, Old Christ Church played a large part.  

According to church records a stolen Bible was returned to Old Christ Church some forty years after the Civil War ended. Hand-written inside was the notation: “To its former home with a deep sense of justice and the feeling of brotherly love to all in the church of which I am a member.”

The last service held in Old Christ Church was more than 115 years ago, on Good Friday, April 10, 1903, at 5:00 in the afternoon. Though weekly services are no longer held there, Old Christ Church stands as an important reminder of Downtown Pensacola's rich history, and continues to serve the community as a museum, gathering place and historic landmark. It is a popular stop on guided tours of historic homes and buildings led by Historic Pensacola each Tuesday through Saturday at 11am and 1pm.