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MCV Foundation/Monumental Church records

Identifier: 2005.Jun.13

Scope and Contents

The collection includes minutes of the Monumental Church Endowment, correspondence with J. Ambler Johnston who oversaw the early renovation. Also included are clippings and articles relating to the Church and its members. The Collection focuses on the time of its first renovation from 1960-1965. It does not cover activity of the congregation or of the years of University ownership.


  • 1957-1965


Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Biographical / Historical

The Monumental Church stands on historic ground. The land was first used in 1786 by the Chevalier Quesnay de Beau Repaire as the location of his Academy of Arts and Sciences. The school only lasted a few years and Quesnay returned to France. One of the buildings that survived was the assembly hall that was quickly converted into the Academy Theatre. It was there that Virginia ratified the Constitution of the United States in 1788. In 1802, the wooden theater caught fire and burned to the ground, but another was erected on its foundation.

This new theater was very popular and often drew large crowds. On December 26, 1811 the theatre was full. During a scene change, a lantern caught the stage backdrop on fire and soon the entire stage was ablaze. In the aftermath of the fire 73 people, mostly women, were killed including Governor George William Smith. The next day a town commission met and resolved to create a memorial to those who died on the theaters grounds. Monumental Church became this memorial.

Two heroes who emerged from the inferno were blacksmith and slave Gilbert Hunt and Dr. James McCaw, a Richmond physician (and grandfather of Dr. James B. McCaw, namesake of the Tompkins-McCaw Library at Virginia Commonwealth University).

Opened in 1814 the Church was built on land "for ever kept sacred". In a vault under the church lay the bodies of those who perished that night, and several plaques and memorials line the churches walls. Chief Justice John Marshall was instrumental in the initial phases in creating this Greek revival church. And after it opened, Marshall was a congregation member. Designed by Roberts Mills, Monumental is the only surviving Church Mills designed with its dome intact. The church was known as Monumental Episcopal Church.

As the City of Richmond grew so did the Medical College of Virginia, taking up most of the city plots around the Church. Under an agreement with Virginia Commonwealth University the Church became a religious center for the student body supplementing its own congregation in 1958. After a major renovation phase of the Church that began in 1960, the Episcopal diocese found the cost too high and moved the congregation to a newer building in 1965. Ownership transferred to the University who attempted to continue the renovations. The Church was listed on National Registry of Historic Places in 1971. The University gave Monumental Church to the Historic Richmond Foundation in 1983, and they began a series of restorative projects that are ongoing.


2.6 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged in chronological order.

Immediate Source of Acquisiton

Received from David Bagby, Executive Director of the MCV Foundation ca. 1980.

A Guide to the MCV Foundation/Monumental Church records
A Collection in Special Collections and Archives, Health Sciences Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, Accession number 2005.Jun.13
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the VCU Health Sciences Library Repository

Special Collections and Archives 509 N 12th St
Box 980582
Richmond Virginia 23298 USA US
(804) 828-9898