Francis Silas Rodgers, original builder and owner of the Wentworth Mansion had a “thing” for fire. He organized the city’s first paid fire department and attended every single fire in Charleston until his death. He was said to have watched the city’s fires first from the cupola. Each of the three churches on Penelope’s Holy City Excursion was plagued by fire. Had he been alive for each blaze, we know Mr. Rodgers would have watched and attended each one himself.
This week was tough, y’all, but many of you guessed correctly. Here are the three churches Penelope toured with Bulldog Tours‘ John LaVerne.
#1 St. Philip’s Episcopal Church: How fitting. The first Holy City site on Penelope’s tour is actually located on Charleston’s famous Church Street. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is a gathering place for Charleston’s oldest and quite possibly most resilient congregation. Since its founding in 1680, St. Philip’s has called three different buildings home, two of those on its current plot of land. The first two buildings had terrible brushes with Charleston’s early devastating elements: hurricanes, sickness and war included. After its initial move to Church Street, St. Philip’s Number 2 was burned completely to the ground. The church people worship in today was restored in the early 1800’s. St. Philip’s adjacent graveyard is a resting place for Charleston power-players like Charles Pinckney and John C. Calhoun.
#2 St. Michael’s Episcopal Church: Stop two on The Tour de Holy City was St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, built on the plot of land where St. Philip’s was originally located. St. Michael’s congregation split from St. Philip’s after a rapid growth in attendance. Church members who lived in the lower section of the city constructed St. Michael’s in the late 1600’s. The building’s stunning architecture is a sign of the times, when Charleston was the wealthiest city in British America. Charleston’s success in exporting rice and indigo (like you learned last week) also meant its buildings were constructed with grand details like St. Michael’s 186-foot tall steeple, columns and porticos (the latter, visible at the Old Exchange, too!) St. Michael’s majestic white steeple represents one of the “Four Corners of Charleston Law” on the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets. John Rutledge is buried here and both historic and modern day celebrities (ie: George Washington and Oprah) worshiped in the church’s center box pew, The Governor’s Pew.
#3 Cathedral of St. John the Baptist: Penelope was so in awe by the grandeur of St. Michael’s, that she asked to see the church next door to the John Rutledge House Inn, her first overnight accommodations. She continued on down Broad Street to take in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The Catholic Cathedral was originally built in 1821 by Bishop John England. Similar to stops #1 and #2, this church went head-to-head with Charleston disaster. Its first brush was in 1861, when a Hasell Street fire broke out and took down the Cathedral in its path. What’s on display now is an unbelievable building, Gothicly styled and made from Connecticut Brownstone. The interior is stunning with white marble altars and intricate stained glass windows depicting various scenes from the Bible. Visible from the Wentworth Mansion cupola, the Cathedral’s 100-foot spire is a fairly recent addition to the Charleston skyline: a dream add-on from the original building’s drawing plan.
Penelope’s excursion only scratched the surface of a true Holy City experience. Charleston is home to a variety of congregations ranging from Unitarian, Lutheran, Jewish, African Methodist Episcopal, French Huguenots… the list goes on for days. It’s another reason why Charleston is so amazing. Everybody is welcome to do their own thing here and for the most part, they always have been.