Our History: Church Architecture & Chronology

The building is a colonial adaption of several small "auditory" type churches built during the 1670s and 1680s by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke in London after the Great Fire of 1666, and these, in turn, derive from an earlier Dutch precedent —the Nieuw Kirk in Haarlem, designed by Jacob van Campen in 1645. All are characterized by vaulted ceilings in the shape of a Greek cross within a square plan. St. Michael's expanded its footprint by one-third with an addition in 1728 of a new roof that covered the original triple gables. In its original configuration, the altar was on the east wall and the pulpit centered on the north wall. The colonial windows were arrayed in two tiers, square below and arched above.

In 1833, with the building in very poor condition, John Glover Hooper led renovations that moved the altar to the north wall with the pulpit, replaced the original box pews with the current enclosed slip pews, and and modified its two-tiered windows into single Gothic style lancet windows.

In 1978, a re-clapboarding of the entire church revealed previously unknown architectural and decorative art details of the original 1714 church building and subsequent modifications. Among them were two wooden trompe l’oeil window caps, painted to simulate glass and believed to be the oldest examples of their kind in the nation. An eighteenth-century wall sconce, with its glass globe largely intact, was also recovered and professionally restored. These and other recovered treasures were featured in a Currier Gallery of Art exhibition and catalog—Benes, Peter, and Zimmerman, Philip D: New England Meeting House and Church: 1630–1850, published by Boston University and The Currier Gallery of Art for The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1979.

Coming soon! A gallery of old photographs and postcards depicting St. Michael's


“In Order to the Building and Erecting a Hansom Church in the Town of Marblehead”—from the original “Boock of Racords.”

1714 “Erected & raised a Church Sept. 2d of ye Dimensions following Vist 48 foot square, 23 foot had ye tower being 50 foot from ye Ground & 17 foot square And we Design ye Spire 53 foot Above ye Tower.”1

Windows were square below and round-topped above. Altar was placed on the east wall; the high pulpit on the north wall.

1718 First bell, which came from England, hung in bell tower.

1728 Church enlarged by moving the north wall back 15 feet and adding a new roof (the present one). Many new pews added.

1732 Twelve-branched brass chandelier and wrought iron suspension grill, made in England and given to St. Michael’s by John Elbridge, Esq., Collector of the Port of Bristol, England.

1754 First pipe organ installed.

1763 Singing gallery added.

1776 First bell cracked July 4th by jubilant Marbleheaders on learning of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

1793 Steeple “taken down being rotten.”

1818 Present bell installed “Revere & Son – Boston 1818” inscribed on what was the parish’s third bell. The Revere Foundry melted down the 506 lb. 1802 bell and, with added metal, cast this new 930 lb. bell.

1833 Major renovation: pointed gothic windows with clear glass were cut into the east and west walls. The altar and reredos were moved from the east wall (churchyard side) to present location on the north wall with new pulpit and separate lectern. Original box pews replaced with 60 new “slip” pews on new floor. Western gallery was removed and upper walls were stenciled.

1888 The stained glass windows were installed by Redding, Baird & Company, including the Moses Window funded by members of the Massachusetts Senate through the efforts of Samuel Roads, Jr. New altar and sanctuary chairs were provided and interior walls elaborately frescoed.

1937 Present altar, riser, and communion rail installed. Unlike previous configurations, this riser and rail extend across the entire width of the church.

1973 St. Michael’s placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1978 Entire church re-clapboarded, revealing previously unknown architectural and decorative art details of the original 1714 building and subsequent changes through the centuries.

1997 Two front rows of center pews removed to provide space for an altar close to the people and for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other events.

1 Letter from Members of the Church of England in Marblehead to Sir Francis Nicholson, Nov. 27, 1714, in the possession of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

Learn more about St. Michael’s history:

Surrounding Buildings
A Revere Bell
St. Michael’s Church Architecture and Chronology
Stained Glass Windows
Archives and Preservation
St. Michael’s Crypt & Churchyard
Women at St. Michael’s
Partial List of Treasures
St. Michael’s Rectors
Histories of St. Michael’s Available Online

back to Our History page

last update 02/15/2014