PENNSYLVANIA: Historic church plans Independence Day commemoration

June 27, 2007

Memories of the American Revolution will be invoked July 1 when Christ Church in Philadelphia uses in worship its Revolutionary Book of Common Prayer, which its vestry altered on July 4, 1776 crossing out the name of King George.

 

The Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Altering of the prayer book was an act of civil disobedience that landed Christ Church's rector, the Rev. Jacob Duché, in jail as soon as British troops arrived in the city in September 1777.

As is custom at Christ Church on the Sunday before July 4, portions of the Declaration of Independence will be read in the 10 a.m. service. Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate and former ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, will read the excerpts this year.

Also on July 1, the altered Book of Common Prayer will be on display along with a rare cameo of King George II that was mounted on the façade of Christ Church in 1744, according to a news release from the parish. Four feet tall and carved from American pine, the cameo depicts King George as Caesar, right down to the toga.

Most of the other royal symbols of the English crown that adorned Christ Church were destroyed in a massive bonfire on July 8, 1776, but this cameo, believed to be the only one of its kind that has survived, was spared.

"There are two possibilities," Bruce Gill, clerk and historian of Christ Church said in the news release. "First, the colonists were mad at King George III, and this is a cameo of his grandfather, whom the colonists remembered fondly. Second, it was so high on the building they couldn't reach it."

The cameo was recently removed so restoration of the 270-year-old church building could proceed.

"It's fascinating to me that King George is depicted as Caesar," said the Rev. Timothy B. Safford, Christ Church's rector. "Jesus' words, 'Render unto Caesar. . .' obviously had a far more positive spin in 1744 than our understanding of Jesus' meaning today."

The cameo will be returned to the façade, but Safford wonders if it will be there permanently. "It is part of the building and our heritage, and unable to be seen, but we believe this is God's building, not King George's, or any earthly power," he said. "I sometimes wonder if it will end up like the crown on the steeple."

Shortly after July 4, 1776, a version of the king's crown that adorned Christ Church's steeple was melted by a fierce blast of lightening. It was replaced in 1789 by a gold mitre, symbolizing the bishop, not the king, as the authority over Christ Church. The mitre still stands.

Christ Church was founded in 1695. The present building dates from 1744.