St. James Episcopal Church (Wilmington, North Carolina)

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St. James Episcopal Church
St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC IMG 4317.JPG
One side of the large St. James Episcopal Church
Basic information
Location City of Wilmington
North Carolina
United States of America
Geographic coordinates 34°14′7″N 77°56′44″W / 34.23528°N 77.94556°W / 34.23528; -77.94556Coordinates: 34°14′7″N 77°56′44″W / 34.23528°N 77.94556°W / 34.23528; -77.94556
Affiliation Episcopal Church of the United States
District Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina
Status Active
Leadership Bishop Clifton Daniel, III
Architectural description
Architect(s) Thomas U. Walter
Completed 1839

St. James Episcopal Church is a historic Episcopal church in the historic district of Wilmington, North Carolina. The church is part of the Episcopal Diocese of East Carolina and is the oldest church in the city of Wilmington.[1]


St. James Episcopal Church was established in the year 1729. Proceeds from the sale of goods that had been salvaged from the Fortuna, a Spanish ship that was abandoned after the Spanish had an unsuccessful attack on Wilmington, went to the construction of St. James and its sister church, St. Philip's Church. The original church building for St. James was built and completed in 1770. The church took on a vital role in the American Revolutionary War. British General Lord Cornwallis took up residency in a house across the street from St. James. The British used St. James as a hospital, and later as a riding school to train the British soldiers. The church was torn down and rebuilt in 1839, the new building constructed from the original bricks of the church. Architect Thomas U. Walter, who designed the dome of the United States Capitol, designed the new church building. St. James, yet again, found itself taking a role in war. In the American Civil War, the church was used as a hospital for Union soldiers, who had at the time taken the confederate city of Wilmington after the fall of Fort Fisher. The church's parish house was built in 1923. Next to the parish house was a house built by Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial in 1901. The Bacon house later became church offices. The church is the resting place of three Episcopal Bishops, Robert Strange, Thomas Atkinson, and Thomas H. Wright, who are buried underneath the church.[2][3]

New York architect, Henry C. Dudley (1813-1894) designed the truss roof in 1871 and the chancel and transept in 1885. Over his lifetime Dudley designed over 180 churches throughout the southern and eastern states.

Church interior[edit]

St. James Episcopal Church's oak altar and reredos were carved by Silas McBee, depicting the Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus. McBee also designed the Bishop's chair and two of the stained glass windows, imcluding The Resurrection of Christ.

Ecce Homo[edit]

A painting of Christ was found in the captain's cabin of the Fortuna by scavengers when being salvaged. The painting turned out to have been done by Spanish artist Francisco Pacheco, and was named Ecce Homo, Latin for Behold the Man. The painting was given to St. James Episcopal Church in 1751, and still resides in the church.[4]

Notable burials[edit]

The historic graveyard at St. James has many notable burials.[5] These burials include:

  • Cornelius Harnett, American Revolutionary
  • George Washington Glover, first husband of Mary Baker Eddy
  • Grainger & Joshua Wright, Wrightsville Beach was named after their father Joshua Grainger Wright
  • Robert Strange, Episcopal bishop
  • Thomas Atkinson, Episcopal bishop
  • Thomas H. Wright, Episcopal bishop
  • Elizabeth Brice, only daughter of Marmaduke Jones, Esq. who was a member of Royal Governor Arthur Dobbs's Council, and later Attorney General of NC.