To the Virginia traveller in the quiet country neighbor-hoods of England there are no objects more appealing than the ancient parish churches, rising above the foliage of immemorial trees, and surrounded by the moss-covered tomb-stones of dead generations. They speak to him of a far-off age and they also recall his own era in the assemblage of worshippers gathered there on some sacred occasion.
In Virginia we have only too few of these beautiful shrines under whose roofs the remote past seems to touch elbows with the immediate present. Superior to them all in some ways stands Old St. John’s, an edifice that is hallowed by great events in history, blended with the shadow of the holiest offices of religion in our own time. Like a great wave the city has slowly spread westward, but the old church remains clothed with an interest that only grows deeper with the passage of the years. As we gaze at the venerable structure we are reminded of the Richmond of long ago that possessed so many delightful homes, each set in a wide plot of ground, varied by rare shrubbery, adorned with old-fashioned gardens, and haunted by melodious birds from the adjacent forests. By those cultured hearths many of the most interesting families of the State were to be found, some of whom had not long drifted away from Old St. John’s to newer places of worship.
Can we not see in our mind’s eye that renowned convention which here instructed the Virginia delegates in Congress to declare the American communities to be free and independent states? Patrick Henry reflected the spirit of every man present when he expressed his undying love of liberty, and the same spirit has seemed to spring up anew on the spot in every subsequent crisis of the Commonwealth.
But there is a softer memory still that lingers about the old church. Here was laid the frail body of Poe’s mother when she had ceased to perform the sprightly roles with which she had charmed her audiences. Her life had been a dark tragedy, and here she had at last found the rest which her gifted son, pursued by ill fortune, was also never to know while he was on earth.