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St. John's Episcopal Church
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

Long known as "the Church of the Presidents," St. John's Episcopal Church has served virtually as the chapel to the White House for nearly two centuries. Every President since James Madison has worshiped here on some occasion. As far back as 1816, records show that a committee was formed to wait on the President of the United States and offer him a pew. James Madison chose pew 54 and insisted on paying the customary annual rental. The next five Presidents in succession--James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison--occupied this pew during their terms of office. Since then, by tradition, pew 54 has been set aside for Presidents of the United States. There are other ways in which the church is further connected with Presidents. Many Presidents have been members of the church. James Madison's wife, Dolly, was baptized and confirmed here. Franklin D. Roosevelt paid homage to tradition by spending a few minutes in prayer here on his two inauguration days.

The church was built in 1816 by Benjamin Latrobe, the noted architect who worked on the Capitol and the White House, as well as the Decatur House. The original Classical style church was built in the form of a Greek Cross, where each arm was equal in length. Latrobe conceived of his churches as meeting houses, with open preaching space unencumbered by piers and columns. As a result, he insisted on simplicity in architecture and a pulpit centrally located so that all might see. St. John's size soon proved inadequate for the growing congregation. In 1820, workmen extended the west transept arm and fronted it with a Roman Doric portico, which resulted in a Latin Cross form.


St. John's Episcopal Church
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO
Over time, further alterations, such as the triple-tiered steeple, significantly altered Latrobe's plan, but the original structure is still recognizable.

Having seen more than its share of national occasions as well as the roster of those who have worshiped in this church, its significance goes without saying. However, there are many notable treasures in the church such as the twenty-seven handsome memorial windows adorning the building. An 18th-century prayer book placed in the President's pew has been autographed by many of the Presidents. A silver chalice and a solid gold communion chalice, encrusted with jewels, are also among its treasures. St. John's is still a living parish in the heart of Washington, DC With its bright yellow stuccoed walls, and golden cupola and dome, St. John's is a lively ornament to Lafayette Square. The church stands as one of the few remaining original buildings left near Lafayette Park today.

St. John's Church is located at 16th and H Sts., NW at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC Every Sunday after the 11:00 am service, there is a guided tour of St. John's. The church is available for public visitation from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm everyday. Metro stop: McPherson Square


 

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