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Charleston's Cathedral of St. John the Baptist: Where Gumbo Was (#76)

682px-Cathedral_of_St._John_the_Baptist_Charleston_SC by Alan Eisen


Visiting Charleston recently, I was struck by its handsome cathedral and unusual spire. The church seems reasonably well-rooted in the 19th century, but the tower reminded me of the turn-of-the-last-century church of Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre in Paris, built to use industrial materials and modernist style. The metalwork in the tower was a hint.



So, I was not really surprised to find that Saint John the Baptist was designed and built at around the same time, and opened in 1907. But there were surprises still to come. First, it turns out that the 1896 design for the cathedral was done by the same architect, Patrick Keely, who had designed the 1854 church it replaced (that one was destroyed in an 1861 fire).


When the new church was built, it had no steeple at all; for over a century it looked like this. The steeple was added only in 2010.


Cathedral_of_Saint_John_the_Baptist_(Charleston,_SC) Charles Bayless (PD)

1024px-CathedralofSaintJohntheBaptistCharlestonInterior1914 PD

 So, you would think: What an interesting 21st-century design to add to a 19th-century church. But no, wrong again. The steeple, which uses copper-covered fiberglass for the arches, was designed by a 21st-century architect alright—but he based it on a sketch for the 1851 design for the original building!




The cathedral celebrated its 2007 centenary not only by starting construction on the tower but also by renovating its brownstone exterior and cleaning and repairing the interior, including stained glass, all by Franz Meyer of Munich, whose work was very popular at the time, both in Europe and North America. 



The Prodigal Son


1024px-CHSCathedralAngelwithhorn FRWilson

Angel with a horn



Stations of the Cross line the exterior walls



The Last Supper


At the front of the church, a very handsome, if fanciful, cathedral-within-a-cathedral decorates the wall behind the altar, and at the rear, an impressive setting for the organ and the choir loft.






Images (13)
  • 640px-Prodigal_Son_CHS_cathedral
  • 682px-Cathedral_of_St._John_the_Baptist_Charleston_SC by Alan Eisen
  • 1024px-CathedralofSaintJohntheBaptistCharlestonInterior1914 PD
  • 1024px-CHSCathedralAngelwithhorn FRWilson
  • Cathedral_of_Saint_John_the_Baptist_(Charleston,_SC) Charles Bayless (PD)
  • DSC02819
  • DSC02820
  • DSC02822
  • DSC02824
  • DSC02825
  • DSC02826
  • DSC02827
  • WITW76

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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