by Taylor Shelby
Charleston, South Carolina
December 17, 2005
Charleston is often called the “Holy City” because of the sheer amount of churches in the city. You will turn a corner and find a little colonial structure or an African-American congregation housed in a simple wooden building dating back to the early 19th century; you will look down an alley and see the tall spires of one of the large congregations looming over you. In the city of Charleston, it is simply impossible to avoid seeing churches. The good news is, most of them are open to the public, along with the cemeteries attached, so feel free to pop in a take a look. Of all the churches on the peninsula, my favorite (and the oldest) is St. Michael's Episcopal Church.
Standing in a place of honor at the corner of Meeting and Broad streets, it is almost impossible not to be awed by the sight of the 186-foot stark white steeple towering over the road. The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1752 and the building has stood on that site ever since, making it the oldest church building in the city of Charleston. If the front doors are open, walk in a take a look. The interior is filled with cedar boxed pews, retaining the traditional interior of an English church. If you walk to the front, you will see pew number 43, which is where George Washington sat in 1791 and Robert E. Lee sat 70 years later.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the interior is the pulpit, which climbs out of the middle of the pews. It is the original pulpit and is a typical feature of Episcopal churches, reminding churchgoers of the importance of the sermon. Also make sure to notice the slave galleries (balconies) around three sides of the room. These were originally placed there for the slaves--and all other African-Americans who weren’t allowed to worship alongside of the white members of the congregation. Keep in mind that this church was built at a time when slavery was not only common in the South but expected.
One of my favorite stories about St. Michael’s is the story of the bells in the steeple. They were originally made in England and the sent to Charleston in 1764. When the British evacuated the city near the end of the revolution, they stole the bells and took them back to England with them. After many years of negotiations, they were finally sent back and put back in the steeple. During the Civil War, a cannon ball went through the steeple and cracked some of the bells, which were then sent back to England for repairs. All together, they have crossed the Atlantic Ocean five times--they should write for IgoUgo!
Make sure not to miss the spectacular cemetery behind the church. It is very beautiful and filled with some impressive graves, including two signers of the Declaration of Independence.
From journal Charleston - off the beaten track