The land on which The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist stands was originally purchased in 1821 by our first bishop, The Rt. Rev. John England of Co. Cork, Ireland. Bishop England, four other bishops, and Bishop England’s sister, Joanna Monica England, are buried in the crypt of the Cathedral. Our present cathedral is the second brownstone cathedral on this foundation.
The architect for The Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar, The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and St. Patrick’s Church on Coming St. was Irish born Patrick Charles Keely, resident of Brooklyn, N.Y. and former student of renowned English architect, Augustus Pugin. Keely designed more than 600 parish churches and cathedrals in the United States.
The first brownstone cathedral on this foundation, The Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar, was destroyed in the Great Fire of Charleston in 1861. This cathedral towered 218 ½’ and was topped by a steeple with a gilded bronze cross 6’ wide and 9’ tall. It was made by the Christopher Werner Foundry, the maker of the Sword Gates on Legere Street and the gates to St. Lawrence Cemetery on the Charleston Neck. Also lost in the fire were a seminary, first catholic free school for girls, 17,000-volume library, a convent, office of the first Catholic Newspaper in the United States (The Catholic Miscellany), sacred vessels, and sacramentals.
Because of the War Between the States and the financial hardships of the diocese, rebuilding was delayed for 29 years. In 1888, Keely returned to Charleston with the original plans to rebuild the 14th century English Gothic Revival Cathedral. In January 1890 the cornerstone was laid and the rebuilding begun. The doors to our present cathedral opened April 14, 1907. We never say finished. We still do not have our steeple. Though the foundation was prepared for it, lack of funds have prevented its building. The center tower currently stands at 100’.
All of the elements of Keely’s cathedral highlight the Christi