Monumental Church honors Richmond Theatre fire victims

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Among buildings on the VCU medical campus, there is a solemn place on a bustling East Broad Street.

Monumental Church stands where flames tore through a packed theatre on December 26, 1811. The fire killed 72 people.

“This site really is one of the most culturally significant sites in Richmond,” says Cyane Crump, the Historic Richmond Executive Director. “At the time, Richmond only had about 9,000 citizens, and so it was one of the worst urban tragedies of its time.”

Crump explains building the church was how the grieving community chose to honor the victims.

“You can see the monument has lots and lots of symbolism,” she points out the white sarcophagus at the front of the church.

It includes names of the deceased, like sitting Governor George Smith and Mary Love Scott, the wife of a state delegate. The victims include men, women and children.

“They were business and political leaders, black and white, free and slave,” Crump says.

She is training guides for the summer season. For the first time, doors will open at Monumental Church each day through a partnership with The Valentine.

Crump relays the sadness but also heroism from the tragic day. Gilbert Hunt, an enslaved blacksmith, saved people from the flames.

“He was honored for his service later a couple of decades,” Crump says about Hunt.

Hunt has his own space at the church now. His legacy and others will be shared through this year’s tours.

“They’ll allow people to see the historical significance of the building, to learn more about Gilbert Hunt and the theatre fire, its impact on Richmond and the response of the Richmond community to that terrible tragedy.”

Daily City Center tours that include a stop at Monumental Church begin in June. Follow this link for The Valentine’s complete schedule.

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