Each summer, when the town of Litchfield hosted Open House Day, I joined in training a small group of St. Michael’s-Litchfield members to offer tours since we are a “point of interest” on the official tours of the stately Colonials on North and South Street. Although the current church building was built in 1920, St. Michael’s has a much longer history in the town of Litchfield. Considering the recent 300-year anniversary opening ceremonies, it is notable that the first church building was raised in 1749 so that’s 270 years of an Episcopal church in the town of Litchfield.
As the publicist, my focus on giving tours was to keep it short, interesting and interactive for our visitors — Can you find the mouse in the St. Francis stained glass window? Who do you think those carved heads overlooking the choir stalls represent? Any guess on how many pipes the organ has?
The church’s history is entwined with the town itself. St. Michael’s first rector, Ashbel Baldwin, was the first Grand Master of the Freemasons in Litchfield, whose original charter dated June 13, 1781 was signed and sealed by none other than Paul Revere. When General George Washington had breakfast in Litchfield during the Revolutionary War, his soldiers began throwing rocks at the earlier church, since Anglican churches were in disfavor with the Continental Army. General Washington stopped them out of respect for the “House of God,” and we thank George for that consideration.
John Davies is the man to whom we owe the beginnings of the Episcopal Church in Litchfield. He came to this country from Herefordshire, England, in 1735 and ultimately deeded 50 acres of land to his friend Samuel Cole for the first Episcopal Church “for and during the term of nine hundred and ninety-eight years, to the use of the Society for the Propagating the Gospel.” Davies added the proviso that Samuel Cole and his heirs “yield and pay therefor one peppercorn annually at or upon the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, if lawfully demanded.” I guess we owe a lot of peppercorns by now, although we still have 722 years to pay up.
The church was designed by the premier architect of the era — Ehrick Rossiter — and probably all we are lacking for a perfect Gothic piece of architecture is flying buttresses and gargoyles. I do love gargoyles, and have a small collection. The bell tower is accessed by steep and narrow stairs so ringing the bell is always great fun for children of all ages; and yes, there are bats in the belfry.
We even have a relic — a fragment of a capital (circa 1190-1300) that came from Lichfield Cathedral in England and was given in 1906 by the Cathedral to their “sister town.” With Neo-Gothic architecture, magnificent pipe organ, Tiffany windows, Mowbray mural, chestnut and oak carvings, and Sienna marble altar, St. Michael’s Parish is enchanting — a European stone cathedral in miniature. There is even a little free library in front of the church, offering free books. Feel free to stop by. Our door is always open for you.