The First Christ Church

Get to know the 'Mother Church' of Georgia

In the heart of Savannah, Georgia’s Historic District stands the famous Christ Church. The eye-catching building strikes the city’s visitors with its towering ivory columns and Ancient Roman design. Active since the early 18th century, the church has seen its fair share of victories and failures, adding to its fascinating trajectory.

Christ Church History

Christ Church - often referred to as the Mother Church of Georgia - was founded along with the Georgia colony in 1733. Upon its inception, it was the only officially recognized place for worship in Savannah.

General James Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia colony, received “trust lots” from King George II of Great Britain. These lots were specifically meant for the construction of public buildings, such as churches, markets, and schools.

Oglethorpe was therefore given authority to plan the layout of the new city. Based on his plan, Savannah’s place of worship was to be established on Bull Street, which is now a central street in the Historic District.

The Christ Church building currently stands in its original location, a large lot to the east of the well-known Johnson Square. Initially, however, the church did not have a main building or a name. Services were held in the city’s courthouse, led by notable ministers John Wesley and George Whitefield.

Although John Wesley desired to bring his religion to Native American tribes through missionary work, his requests were denied, and he was assigned to the Savannah ministry. While serving as Christ Church minister from 1736 to 1738, Wesley established a Sunday School for children to encourage weekly Sunday communion, something he promoted vehemently. During this time he also published a book of colonial hymns.

Wesley’s successor, George Whitefield, served as Christ Church priest from 1738 to 1740. During this time he established the Bethesda Orphan House and Academy, now known as the Bethesda Academy. The school is currently active as a private, all-boys boarding school.

Origins of the Anglican/Episcopal Church

The Anglican Church - or Church of England - originated in 1534 when King Henry VIII of England separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church.

After his request to have his first marriage annulled was denied by Pope Clement VII, King Henry VIII initiated the English Reformation - establishing the power of the crown over the Pope, and thus giving way to the Anglican Church.

The Episcopal Church is one of the 40 churches that make up the Anglican Communion, one of the largest Christian denominations in the world.

When colonists traveled to the Americas, they brought with them their religious doctrines, establishing the Church of England throughout the continent. Over time, these colonial churches gained independence without straying from the Anglican Communion, therefore transforming into their own denomination.

Among these was the Episcopal Church, founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1789. Episcopalians have evolved to be considered more liberal than Anglicans, promoting love and acceptance, as well as deeming themselves an LGBTQ-friendly church.

Architectural Design and Interior

In 1838, the Christ Church Episcopal building we know today was erected. The church was designed by architect James Hamilton Cooper in a grand Neoclassical style. Its most notable features are the six Roman-inspired columns that frame the front entrance and simple yet large rectangular outline.

Before the main building’s construction, the lot contained two bell towers. The bell in the north tower was installed in 1819 and is still in use today.

During planning, James Hamilton Cooper decided the main building should be large enough to hide the two bell towers as they did not align with his Neoclassical design. The bell towers are therefore not visible from the front of the building, preserving the architect’s desired aesthetic.

In 1897, a fire ravaged the church destroying important documents, as well as a large portion of the building. After the fire, however, the church was restored and optimized. The remodel allowed worshippers to see and hear the services from all areas.

The interior of the church features intricate Baroque moldings designed to replicate those found in the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Another impressive interior feature is the large stained glass window located behind the altar.

The Ascension Stained Glass window was installed in 1898 as a memorial to the first bishop of Georgia, Stephen Elliot. The window is a colorful depiction of Christ with open arms, rising towards the heavens.

Charitable Initiatives

During the Great Depression, the nation was faced with financial strains and hardships that demanded an increase in charitable efforts. To aid the community, the Women’s Auxiliary of Christ Church developed the Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens.

The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens - initiated in 1935 - helped raise money for the public, promoted the historical beauty of Savannah, and funded local and national preservation efforts. The Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens is still active, helping the needy and underserved for over 80 years.

Anglicans vs. Episcopalians

In 2007, Christ Church was split in two: Christ Church Anglican and Christ Church Episcopal, due to theological differences. Tensions between the two denominations had been high since 2003 after an Episcopal Church in New Hampshire consecrated an openly gay, non-celibate bishop. Although this occurred in a different state, it highlighted the differences between both groups throughout the Nation, initiating an inevitable separation.

While Christ Church Anglican intended to maintain historic Christian principles, Christ Church Episcopal sought to reform the traditional ways of the church - which involved particularly the acceptance of homosexuality within the congregation.

The dispute between both denominations was brought before the Georgia Supreme Court to determine which church would remain in the original building. The 5-year-long legal battle was finally settled in 2012 when Christ Church Episcopal - the original congregation - was granted control over the Johnson Square location.

Christ Church Anglican is currently located near Thomas Square in an early 20th-century building erected by the Hull Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Where is the Christ Church?

Christ Church Anglican and Christ Church Episcopal are located on Bull Street, only a few miles apart.

Christ Church Episcopal
(Sunday Services: 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 6:00 p.m.)
(Wednesday Service at noon)
28 Bull Street
Savannah, GA 31401

Christ Church Anglican
(Sunday Services: 8:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 9:00 p.m.)
2020 Bull Street
Savannah, GA 31401

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