King's Chapel looks like one of the least-interesting Freedom Trail sites from the outside, and you may feel tempted to pass it by. But that would be a mistake.
In addition to having an elegant interior and a history that encapsulates a century of tensions between British rules and Colonists, the classical Georgian-style stone and granite building with Greek-style columns hosts excellent concerts, including concerts every Tuesday that you can attend for just a few dollars.
Inside, the chapel is quite beautiful, and well worth a 10-minute visit. If you are in this part of Boston on a Tuesday, plan your visit to coincide with the weekly noon concert, featuring an eclectic range of music including occasionally the chapel's own magnificent organ.
If you want to know about the history of King's Chapel and the significant historical events that took place here, keep reading. Otherwise, skip straight to visitors information and map.
King's Chapel had a bumpy beginning, since the Puritans didn't want churches in Boston.
Boston's Puritan founders fled England to escape religious persecution by the Church of Engand and the Anglican king, and not surprisingly, Anglican religious services were banned in Boston.
In fact, the Puritans designed their places of worship to be as unlike Anglican churches as possible.
Unadorned, simple, and steeple-less, they weren't even called "churches." That's why the Puritans called their Old South Meeting House a "meeting house" and not a "church."
But not everyone in Boston was a Puritan. In particular, the Royalists - often appointees of the English king - tended to be Anglicans, members of the Church of England. And they wanted to worship in a church.
By 1685, decades of tension between various English kings and the Massachusetts Puritans erupted. King James II revoked the colony's self-governance charter, and in 1686 appointed Sir Edmond Andros as Royal Governor, giving him a mandate to maintain control over the colony.
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To make matters even worse from the Puritans' perspective, Royal Governor Andros was a devout Anglican who demanded that Anglican services be held in the city. He organized a congregation as soon as he arrived in Boston in 1686. In 1688, he demanded that the Boston Puritans sell land to the Anglican congregation for an Anglican church.
The Puritans refused to sell, so Royal Governor Andros used eminent domain to sieze land from a corner of the town's first burying ground, considered sacred because it contained the remains of the first generation of Puritans. His own wife, Lady Andros, had also recently been buried there.
Governor Andros had those unfortunate enough to be buried in "his" corner disinterred and reburied elsewhere. His wife's grave, like many others, is now unmarked, so we don't know whether her remains joined others in the move.
On this "repurposed" land, he built a small wooden chapel with a steeple.
The presence of King's Chapel, as the Puritans called it, felt like an in-your-face affront by Governor Andros. However, it was just one of his many tyrannical gestures during his time in Boston.
After the Colonists learned in early 1689 that James II had been overthrown a couple of months earlier, they delighted in imprisoning Andros and finally sending him back to England. No doubt they also enjoyed knowing that he never got to set foot in his chapel.
But King's Chapel remained. Throughout the next half century, Royal officials continued to worship there. King's, queens, dukes, and earls showered it with opulent gifts - silver services, chancel tables, vestments, more silver. In 1713, the chapel became the first church in New England to acquire an organ.
In 1748, the old wooden chapel - too small, too shabby, too plain - was torn down and construction began on a much grander replacement constructed from Quincy granite.
As Royal Governor William Shirley laid the cornerstone on August 11, 1749, angry Puritans threw garbage at him. However, he wisely gave the workmen 20 pounds to drink to his health, so construction proceeded.
Finally, in 1753, builders completed part of what you can still see today - the Georgian-style stone building almost hidden behind the columns. A bell forged in England was hung in 1772. However, plans for a tall steeple fell victim to lack of funds - much to the delight of the Puritans.
British military officers and Royal government appointees worshipped at King's Chapel throughout the seige of Boston. When the seige ended in March of 1776, the rector fled with rest of the Royalists to Halifax, carrying the silver communion services with him.
After being closed for a few months, the Chapel reopened for the funeral of devout Patriot and physician, General Joseph Warren, killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill almost a year earlier in June 1775.
Initially, Warren's body had to be buried at the Bunker Hill battle site because the British won the battle and wouldn't release his body. But after General Washington forced them to evacuate Boston in March, Warren's friends and family rowed to Charlestown to exhume his partially decomposed body and bring it back to King's Chapel for funeral services, symbolizing the Colonists' control over former British territory.
General Warren's friend Paul Revere identified him by two silver artificial teeth that he had crafted and fastened in with silver wire. This is believed to be the documented occurance of dental forensics.
During the Revolution, Bostonians tried to rename King's Chapel the Stone Chapel . . . but that name didn't stick.
The real transformation happened almost by chance. In 1782, the congregation hired James Freeman, first as lay reader and later as minister. He introduced Unitarian ideas and revised the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to embrace Unitarian principles.
Although Reverand Freeman still considered the church to be Episcopalian, the Anglican bishop refused to ordain him - so in 1787, the Senior Warden of King's Chapel ordained Reverand Freeman, transforming New England's first Anglican/Episcopalian church into the first Unitarian church in the United States.
The new Unitarians changed King's Chapel's appearance in 1790 by adding the Ionic columns that you can see today. Although the columns are designed to look like granite, they're actually made from wood.
In contrast to the chapel's beginning 100 years earlier, the reconstruction effort of the newly Unitarian church received broad community support. Even George Washington attended a musical performance/fundraiser in 1789 and contributed 5 pounds toward the new columns.
After the chapel's English bell cracked, Paul Revere recast it in his foundry in 1814. When it was rehung in 1816, he called it "the sweetest bell I ever made."
This same bell tolled for Paul Revere when he died two years later.
And Paul Revere's bell continues to call the congregation to worship each Sunday morning. You'll hear its sweet tones in this part of Historic Boston if you're nearby.
King's Chapel still is home to an active and vibrant Unitarian congregation, which still uses the 9th edition of James Freeman's revised Book of Common Prayer.
King's Chapel's world-renowned music program fills an important position in Boston's rich music landscape, partly because of its magnificant C.B. Fisk organ, the Chapel's 6th and a copy of the 1756 organ. The late Music Director Daniel Pinkham earned star status in Boston's Early Music community. King's Chapel also belongs to the famed Boston Choral Consortium.
My "insider" recommendation: If at all possible, plan your visit for a time when you can also hear music here - it could be one of your most lasting memories of your Boston visit.
This map shows the location of King's Chapel (pink marker), nearby hotels, and other attractions such as Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Haymarket, and historic Boston taverns.
Self-guided tour on weekdays (Monday - Friday): A small donation is requested, although not required, to help support on-going maintenance related to the wear and tear of tourist traffic. Do while you walk along the Freedom Trail.
Tuesday Noon Concerts: These 30-40 minute performances take place throughout the year. See the Boston Event Calendar for February for details, which apply throughout the year. A small donation is requested.
Sunday service: You are welcome to attend a Sunday service, during which you'll get to hear the beautiful organ and the famed King's Chapel Choir.
Sunday Concert Series: From October through March, these monthly concerts typically feature 17th and 18th century music, the Chapel's organ, and visiting performers. They are true jewels in Boston's musical tapestry. See King's Chapel's website for details (click on Music).
Open: Hours when King's Chapel is open for tours change based on seasons and other events, such as the Chapel's current major restoration project. Call 617-227-2155 or check their website (below) for details.
Location: Corner of School and Tremont Streets, Downtown Boston section of the Freedom Trail
Closest T stations: Red and Green Lines/Park Street; Blue and Green Lines/Government Center
For more information: Call 617-227-2155; website
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