Old North Church lights up history

BOSTON — The Old North Church became an emblem for the American Revolution more than 200 years when two lanterns were lit on April 18, 1775.

Even without its connection to Paul Revere, the church is still filled with stories and objects that recount American history.

Formally known as the Christ Church in the City of Boston, the North Church is located in North End, the old Italian neighborhood near downtown Boston. It is Boston’s oldest building having been constructed in 1723.

That April night the groundskeeper of the church Robert Newman was instructed by Paul Revere, a member of the Sons of Liberty, to hang two lanterns in the steeple. The lanterns were used as a back-up signal in case the midnight riders to Lexington, Mass., were captured by British officers.

The signal could be seen across the Charles River because the church was built in highest point in Boston. The signal indicated to the Patriots if the British were traveling by land or water. The two lanterns burned for about 30 seconds, enough time for the Patriots and the British to both see the signal.

Within minutes British officers arrived at the North Church banging on the door. Newman escaped through a back window. He was arrested the next day but released immediately because there was no evidence.

The church originally was an Anglican Church and, thus, loyal to the king of England. It is now an Episcopalian Church, which holds Sunday services and even weddings, said Keira O’Leafy, lead guide.

The church was renovated back to the original floor plan in 1912. Pews were removed and box pubs were reinstalled. Because of its location, the church was constructed in 1723 with four-feet-tall box pubs that were designed to conserve heat and patrons warm in the church during the winters. There are 65 individual box pubs.

Pub owners were allowed to decorate as they wanted and keep necessary objects in them. The owners, mostly wealthy businessmen and sea captains, kept blankets and hot coal foot warmers from home. There was an initial member fee and an annually pub fee.

It was in 1989 that the window used by Newman was discovered. During renovations workers broke through a side wall exposing the window with its original woodwork and glass. It had been bricked up in 1815.

“Those that sat on the right side during the Sunday services were blinded,” explained O’Leafy. “So they asked the church to shut down the window.”

Original artifacts from the 1700s are hung throughout the church.

Two brass chandeliers from 1724 hang over the middle aisle (Photo by Lola Thelin).

The two brass chandeliers near the front of the church are from 1724. On special occasions the 12 candles on the chandeliers burn. On the second floor hangs the oldest and continuous running clock in a U.S. building. The clock built in 1726 has to be wound by hand.

Also on the second floor, above the entrance door, is the original organ from 1759. Four Belgium hand-curved, wooden angels are perched around the organ.

Robert Newman escaped from the British through this window after lighting two lanterns in the steeple to warn the Patriots. The window was discovered in 1989 during a renovation (Photo by Lola Thelin).

These angels are actually stolen items. When the North Church found out the angels were stolen, they contacted the real owners, the Catholic Church in Quebec, but the church told them to keep the angels.

Pirates during 1700s were enemy, but the British became allies with them and gave them permission to attack any enemy ships. Pirate Capt. Thomas Grucy, a member of the church, stole the angels in 1746 from a ship that was on its way to Quebec. The angels were to be delivered to a Catholic Church.

“There is also a crypt below the church with bodies recessed into 37 wall tombs,” said O’Leafy. “The majority are soldiers from the Battle of Bunker and Breeds.”

Box pubs such as this one allowed parishioners to stay warm during the winters because it trapped in heat. This is an example of how the family pubs were decorated (Photo by Lola Thelin)..


If You Go

Christ Church of the City of Boston, the Old North Church

193 Salem St., Boston, Mass. 02113.

The Old North Church is located in the North End, Boston’s downtown. It is located at the Salem Street and Hull Street.
Subway: Take the Orange or Green line to the Haymarket stop.
Walking: Follow the Freedom Trail indicated by the red line on the sidewalk until you arrive at the intersection of Cross Street at Salem Street. Walk down Salem Street to Hull Street. Hull Street forms the leg of a T with Salem Street. The Old North Church faces squarely down Hull Street.

Car: Driving is possible, although parking in the neighborhood around the church is limited. Please visit for driving instructions.

617-523-6676 (telephone), 617-725-0559 (fax).

Sunday services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Hours changes with the season. There are several different hour schedules. During the winter season, the church is opened Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; during the spring, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and during the summer (peak season), 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The basic tour of the church is free. It includes a talk by one of the guides on the history of Old North. Donations are sought.
Special summer tour – “Behind the scene”
$8 – adults, $5 – children, group prices available

Throughout the year, free lectures on the history of the church. At least one guide stationed in the church for questions.

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