Trinity Cathedral in Columbia

By:Page Ivey


One of the first churches I ever went to in Columbia is also one of the oldest.

Just off the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe and shouting distance from the Statehouse is Trinity Episcopal Cathedral & Cemetery.

I went because a friend came to visit me at college and wanted to go to services there. I had no idea of its history when we walked up to the church that takes up an entire city block and is surrounded by graves as old as Columbia.

The thing I remember most was the seating. The pews were enclosed boxes – no sneaking out early or the creaky door would draw everyone’s attention. (The pews used to be rented out to congregants to provide funds for the church, but that was a long time ago.)

The church started in 1812 when a group of Columbians created the backcountry’s first Episcopal parish. They first met in the Senate chamber of the Statehouse. The first building was shaped like a cross and built at the corner of Gervais and Sumter streets. That building was dedicated in 1814.

Trinity puts a lot of credit for its early success on Peter Shand, who joined the church in 1833 and was ordained the following year. He served as rector for 52 years.

The growth led to the need for a new building and architect Edward Brickell White based the design of the current building (minus the side sections) on York Cathedral in England. The building was completed in 1847 and survived the burning of Columbia during the Civil War despite the destruction of the Statehouse just across the street and much of the rest of the city.

During the recent renovation, special care was taken to protect and restore the original box pews. They were removed from the sanctuary one piece at a time and numbered so they could be put back in the exact same location.

The church’s baptismal font was designed by sculptor Hiram Powers.

In the churchyard are the graves of many distinguished South Carolinians, including six governors of the state and eight Episcopal bishops.

Free cathedral tours are available 10 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays.

Services are held in the cathedral at 7:45, 9 and 11:15 a.m. most of the year and at 7:45 and 10 a.m. during the summer.

Trinity Cathedral is at 1100 Sumter St. Call (803) 771-7300 for more information.

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