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Christ Church and the Christ Church Burial Ground

View of the church built of red brick with a tall white spire.
Historic Christ Church. Photo © natalie419, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

In its heyday, Christ Church (20 N. American St., 215/922-1695; Mon.-Sat. 9am-5pm, Sun. 1pm-5pm, closed Mon. and Tues. in Jan. and Feb.; free, suggested donation $3 adult, $2 student) counted many of Philadelphia’s elite among its members—including 15 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Basically, everyone who was anyone came here to pray. The first parish of the Anglican Church in Pennsylvania and the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, it is referred to as “The Nation’s Church.”

At its founding in 1695, the modest brick-and-wood structure resembled the typical Quaker meeting houses that dominated early Philadelphia. That is a far cry from what you’ll see today—one of the finest and most elaborate examples of colonial Georgian architecture in the world. Rebuilt in 1727-1744, the church was designed by Dr. John Kearsley and modeled on the work of famed British architect Christopher Wren. The tower was added in 1754 with funds raised from a lottery organized by Benjamin Franklin, making the church the tallest structure in the colonies for 75 years to follow.

Inside, you’ll see William Penn’s baptismal font (donated in 1697 by All Hallows Church in London), a chandelier installed in 1740, and a pulpit built by Thomas Folwell in 1769. William White, church rector for 57 years, first bishop of Pennsylvania, and chaplain of the Continental Congress, is also buried here. When the parish grew too large, St. Peter’s Church was established as an offshoot for Society Hill members. The church remains active to this day, and 20-minute guided tours are offered when service is not in session.

Christ Church Burial Ground

In 1790, Ben Franklin’s funeral was attended by more than 20,000 people. Here he rests, alongside his wife and young son and more than 5,000 other early Philadelphians. In 1719, the overcrowded grounds of Christ Church a few blocks away could no longer fit more bodies, so this plot was purchased on the “outskirts of town” to accommodate its members (Arch St. btwn. 4th and 5th Sts., 215/922-1695; Mar.-Nov. Mon.-Sat. 10am-4pm, Sun. noon-4pm, Dec. Fri.-Sat. noon-4pm, weather permitting; closed Jan. and Feb.; $2 adult, $1 student, $10 for groups up to 25).

The site was closed to the public for 25 years, but it reopened in 2003 after an intensive renovation. More than 1,400 markers remain, many so old and worn down that the names are no longer visible. During a tour you’ll learn about the prominent figures and ordinary folks who were buried here. While 80 percent of the burials took place before 1840, the most recent was in 1994. Legend has it that it’s good luck to throw a penny on Ben’s grave.

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