Out of Africa: Nashville, Tennessee’s Downtown Presbyterian Church

The National Historic Landmark’s vibrant sanctuary reflects the era’s infatuation with Egyptian art and architecture.


Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee

Photo by Steven Hyatt

In Nashville, country music is religion, and while famed concert halls like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry may draw more disciples than this historic house of worship, the city’s Downtown Presbyterian Church—just a two-minute walk from the Ryman—is an icon in its own right. Dating back to 1814 (when it was known as First Presbyterian Church), the building succumbed to fire twice before being rebuilt in 1849. The colorful sanctuary reflects that era’s infatuation with Egyptian art and architecture. Evoking an open-air temple, stained-glass windows depict desert landscapes, palm trees, lotus blooms, and the Nile. Ornate painted columns rise to a coffered ceiling portraying a blue sky with clouds, juxtaposed against traditional Christian elements like wooden pews, red carpeting, and a pipe organ. The home church of President Andrew Jackson, the church was also the inauguration site of Tennessee governor (and future president) James K. Polk in 1839 and served as a military hospital during the Civil War. In the late 19th century, its 4,000-pound bell doubled as the city’s fire alarm. The National Historic Landmark remains open for weekly worship and for public tours a few times a month; check the schedule at dpchurch.com.

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Southbound.