Every story has a starting places and my series on historic churches in Northern Virginia has one as well. Since most of the churches in Colonial America were started by families coming to the America’s from England the history of our older churches starts there as well.
So this edition of the story detours to an upscale neighborhood in London known as Hampstead Heath. The church is known as Rosslyn Hill Chapel which has it’s origins in the late 17th century. This particular church was one of the first churches where “Dissenters” from the Church of England were allowed to register and gather for religious worship in the late 1600’s.
Tucked off the main street in Hampstead you might walk right by it if you didn’t know it was there. The age of the original chapel is evident in some of the memorial stones found on the grounds but the actual chapel standing now dates to 1862. With its’ incredible stained glass windows some designed by William Morris one of the prominent leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement and its stone façade it is an imposing structure even though it is very small compared to other churches you will find in England.
There are rumors that this church was also one of the churches that were part of the Knights of the Templar and the baptismal font in the church is actually from the 11th century. When the movie The DaVinci Code was released a number of historians came to the church to study the font to determine its origin. At this time as with so many of the “facts” of the movie it is still unclear as to whether this font is from the Knights of the Templar but it makes for an interesting bit of the church history.
Over the years the chapel was discovered to have exceptional acoustics due to the high vaulted wooden ceiling and has been used over the years as a recording studio for choral and classical music. The present church is under the Unitarian Churches of England and has the largest congregation of any other Unitarian Church in England.
This church was the site of my daughters wedding in 2006 which led to our studying more about the church history. With its origins as one of the original churches for religious dissenters in England it is known that many of the first congregations came to America. We are still looking to determine whether we can find a famous colonist but church records do support the exodus to the colonies.
So this was the little detour to look at the connection between a church in the UK and churches on my historic churches blog tour.
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