MICHIGAN CITY – Those who love historic buildings and old world craftsmanship will have the opportunity to visit one of Michigan City’s architectural treasures while enjoying Afternoon Tea at the historic Bishop’s Mansion at Trinity Episcopal Church.

The mansion at 614 Franklin St. has rarely been open to the public, but the Women of Trinity Church will be serving up holiday treats Saturday from noon-3 p.m. 

Attached to Trinity Episcopal Church it's part of Michigan City’s Barker family legacy. Recently renovated, the gilded age mansion was built in 1901 by railroad car industrialist John Barker. It served as the residence of the bishop of what was then known as the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan City, which included all of northern Indiana. Later it was occupied by priests serving Trinity Church.

The entrance to the mansion is through the Trinity Church courtyard and Gothic arched cloister facing Franklin Street. The interior has multiple fireplaces, a 350-square-foot living room with coffered ceiling, oak paneled library, and a grand staircase. The stained-glass window in the stairway is the symbol of the Episcopal diocese: a lighthouse. Visitors may also tour the adjacent chapel and Trinity Episcopal Church, built in 1889.

Afternoon tea has been a tradition and important part of daily life in England for over 150 years. The formal tea in America was adopted as a formal social event. Prior to afternoon tea, the British ate two daily meals — breakfast and dinner. During the mid-1700s, the middle and upper classes shifted dinner from midday to the evening. Served at a fashionably late hour, dinner was a protracted, feast-like affair.

In 1662, Catherine of Braganza of Portugal married Charles II from England’s House of Stuart. When the newlywed Catherine arrived in Portsmouth, she brought her tea chest and asked for a cup. Soon after, Catherine deigned tea as the official court beverage. Tea was a rare luxury in Catherine’s day for it was scarce, expensive and highly taxed.

Although the famed English East India Company had formally introduced tea in the 1600s, it took Catherine’s royal influence to make it fashionable.

One of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857), the 7th Duchess of Bedford, also had a hand in popularizing afternoon tea. Because the noon meal was very light, the Duchess found she was hungry by late afternoon. As a solution, her servants snuck her tea and cakes to tide her over until dinner, which was served at 8:30 or 9 p.m. The plan was such a success she invited friends to join her at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle.

The menu featured an array of dainty cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and tea. Given her station in life, everything was elegant. Hostesses throughout England quickly followed suit, establishing afternoon tea as a social ritual. The Women of Trinity continue this tradition at their annual Holiday Tea.

They will be serving up holiday treats Saturday from noon–3 p.m. The tea-time menu will be bite-size sandwiches, a variety of holiday scones topped with Devonshire clotted cream and jam, and a selection of traditional cakes, pastries and chocolates. English style tea with cream, and the Russian style tea with lemon and sugar will be served on the Barker Hall monogrammed china.

Tickets are $13 for adults, $10 for children under 12, and free for children under 6.

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