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Historic image of Christ Church Episcopal, c1943
Photograph by J. Winston Coleman, Jr., courtesy of Transylvania University Special Collections, Lexington, KY
During Lexington's early growth, Christ Church Episcopal was one of the institutions that contributed to the city's image as "the Athens of the West." Christ Church, established in 1796, was the first Episcopal congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains. It became the seat of the Diocese of Kentucky in 1829 as well as the Diocese of Lexington. The earliest building on this site was a small frame church, which was replaced by a larger brick building during the early 19th century. The great cholera epidemic of 1833 in Lexington claimed the lives of approximately 30 percent of the congregation. The parishioners who died during this plague were interred in the nearby Episcopal Burying Ground.


Historic image c1948 of the interior of the chancel of the chapel
Photograph from the Herald Leader Newspaper, courtesy of the Kentucky Heritage Commission

The current church was designed by famed Lexington architect Thomas Lewinski and completed in 1848. Gothic Revival was a very popular architectural style for ecclesiastical architecture during the mid-19th century. Lewinski applied various Gothic Revival elements to Christ Church Episcopal such as the large central, square tower topped by several large pinnacles, as well as the interior buttresses and arches. In 1858, upon the arrival of a new rector, Reverend James Morrison, contracts were let for a large addition to the church building, but as war approached, construction was halted due to lack of funds. This addition, or "Morrison's folly" as some called it, was boarded up to keep out the weather. When the next rector, Reverend Jacob Shaw Shipman, assumed his duties in October 1861, he found the city under military rule. He was not able to rouse enough enthusiasm in his parish to resume construction on the church addition until the following spring. By the time the addition was completed in March 1864, which added transepts and organ space, the congregation had grown to fill the new space, with well over 400 communicants. A few years later Bishop Smith declared publicly that Shipman was "the only man in America who, when every Protestant church in Lexington was divided during the war, could have held his church together." Over the years the congregation has included several prominent members such as Kentucky statesman Henry Clay; John Wesley Hunt; General John Hunt Morgan; and John Bradford, the editor of the first newspaper in the west. Christ Church Episcopal is now called the Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church Episcopal is located at 166 Market St., on the edge of the Gratz Park Historic District. For more information on the church or worship times please call 859-254-4497 or visit its website.

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