It was a rainy day in August 2016, and I needed to find somewhere with history to wait out the storm in Staunton, Virginia. Huddled under my umbrella, I studied the historic walking tour map and realized I was close to a church. I made a dash for the big, heavy doors and found sanctuary inside.
Today is Good Friday, and we approach Easter Sunday this weekend. For those of the Christian faith, these are important days of remembrance and celebration. With a sober mindset at this time, I want to take you inside this historic church, share some historical facts, show you some amazing artwork, and invite you to make this location a stop on your next weekend trip to Staunton.Trinity Episcopal Church (Augusta Parish) stands as the oldest church in the town of Staunton, Virginia. 1746 – that’s when the church was founded, just one year after Augusta County formed and one year before the city became official. In the beginning, religious services were held at the courthouse until the church building could be constructed. Reverend John Hindman served as the first elected rector.
At the church building site (214 W. Beverley Street, Staunton, VA 24401), three historic structures were raised in past years. In 1763, the community finished the first building. The second was built from parts of the original brick and that cornerstone was laid in 1830. Finally, in 1855, the sanctuary of the current structure was constructed, though additions in 1869-70 and 1887-88 added outer aisles and a larger chancel. Through the decades, the parish has undertaken major renovations and preservation efforts for their historic structure.
This church already had a storied history before the Civil War years. In 1775, citizens gathered at the location to discuss the growing conflict with England and decide how they would respond to the forming revolution. Then, between June 7-23, 1781, the Virginia Assembly used the location for governmental meetings, after fleeing across the Blue Ridge Mountains to escape the British forces closing in on their capital.
During the Civil War years, Trinity Episcopal Church served as an educational facility in addition to its religious functions. Local professors and students gathered at the church for classes and citizens assembled for worship and religious encouragement while the war surged in the Shenandoah Valley outside the historic walls.
Staunton, Virginia, escaped Union occupation for several years, though it was a targeted area for its central location and railroad tracks. The city sent hundreds of men to the Confederate military and served as a supply base and hospital center. On June 6, 1864, Union troops commanded by General David Hunter arrived in Staunton and wrecked the facilities used for the war efforts, restricting the city’s Confederate support in the final months of the war.
Trinity Episcopal Church survived the conflict and offered a shelter and religious refuge for grieving families, struggling citizens, or veterans facing a bleak future. In the post-war decades, the parish had another close connect to the Civil War. Reverend Walter Q. Hullihen who pastored the church from 1872 to 1918 had served on General J.E.B. Stuart’s staff during the conflict. Some of the beautiful and famous stained glass windows in the church were installed during his years of ministry.
The church features a wonderful collection of stained glass from different historical decades spanning from the 1850’s through the 20th Century. Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios in New York created twelve of the pieces; the Tiffany glass alters color shades based on the light, offering a type of layered and sculpted glass.
For centuries and through conflicts, this parish and the structure of Trinity Episcopal Church have served as a solid fixture in Staunton’s community. A place of religious refuge. A place of joy. A place to find comfort and support in times of grief. A place where civic and community meetings have been held. A place that symbolizes and tells the story of religion’s place in the lives of our ancestors.
Walking through the doors of this pre-Civil War building which has been so careful expanded and preserved, we can find ourselves in a place a history but also in a place that is alive with faith, hope, and love as the community and congregation continues to meet. On Easter Sunday, the parish will welcome members and visitors alike for services. The historic organ will sing, and along the sides of the church light will illuminate the pictorial art that celebrates the good news of the Christian faith and Easter holiday: “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 16, verse 6
Visiting Trinity Episcopal Church:
Check the church’s website for touring hours or service times: http://trinitystaunton.org/about-us/visiting/
More details about the stained glass and other historic features may be downloaded here.
214 W. Beverley Street
Staunton, VA 24401
Historical resources may be purchased in the church’s small gift shop.