Less Traveled

Page Ivey



Hallowed Ground: Charleston's St. Philip's Episcopal Church

Posted 6/19/2013 11:04:00 AM

One of the oldest churches in South Carolina is St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston. Founded in 1680, it is considered to be the mother church for Anglicans in the Carolinas.

The first St. Philip's was built at the corner of Meeting and Broad streets where St. Michael's currently stands.

After a hurricane damaged the first building in 1710, a new brick building was planned for the current location on Church Street, but that building was destroyed by a hurricane during its construction and further delayed by Indian wars. The building was finally completed in 1723.

That building survived the city’s occupation by the British during the Revolutionary War and afterward, a new church was formed in the new country.

The 19th century was just as turbulent. In the mid-1800s, St. Philip’s was destroyed by fire and had several temporary homes before moving into its current building.

A brief period of stability was followed by the Civil War and the loss of the church bells to “the Cause.”

The church’s iconic steeple, which has stood sentinel over the city since before the Civil War began, was a target of U.S. Army artillery during the war. The city was occupied by U.S. troops until Reconstruction ended in the 1870s.

Also, the church steeple lost its voice when the bells were appropriated by the Confederate Army to make cannons.

According to the church’s records: “Upon application of the Confederate Authorities, during the War, the Bells of the Church were given to the Ordnance Department to be melted into Cannon, upon the promise that, after the successful termination of the Struggle with the Northern Government, they would be replaced by other bells of the same tone and size. They were taken to Augusta, and with the loss of the Southern cause, all hope of their restoration has expired.”

The church’s war wounds were gradually repaired, just in time for the 1886 great Charleston earthquake that damaged thousands of buildings in the city. But the steeple would stand a silent sentinel for more than 100 years.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a light was put in the church’s steeple to act as a beacon to guide ships into Charleston Harbor. But again, the church was damaged on several occasions by fire and even a couple of tornadoes.

In the 1950s the church’s women’s group began creating a garden that would eventually become home to the church’s annual Tea Garden held each spring.

In the 1970s, the church got its voice back when the women’s group raised the money to buy four bells for the steeple. The bells first rang out July 4, 1976, on the bicentennial of the United States.

The steeple bells ring on the hour from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily. The bells also ring the Westminster chimes in 15-minute intervals. You can hear the church bells here.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall near Charleston, causing billions of dollars of damage across the entire state. St. Philip’s sustained more than $4 million of damage.

St. Philip's is at 146 Church St., (843) 722-7734. The church offices are open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Sunday services are at 8:15 and 10:30 a.m.