"If you are walking in Charleston, you are walking on someone's grave."--Sue Bennett, Charleston tour guide

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Church Graveyards Visit a Hit!

During class on Sept. 7 I took my "Beyond the Grave" students to two nearby churches to see their graveyards. Both churches are very old. The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul on Coming Street dates to 1810. St Patrick Catholic Church on St. Philip Street opened in 1838.
Graveyard at St. Luke's 

St. Luke's features a rich array of grave markers, monuments and memorials, including headstones and flat ledger stones seen in the forefront and mausoleums seen in the background. The ledger stones were designed to keep the spirits from escaping and haunting the living!

St. Luke's graveyard

An ornate iron gate surrounds this family plot. Two pedestal tombs with vaulted tops are seen along the left side of this photo. Next to the pedestal tomb in the forefront is a pedestal with a draped broken column on it. The broken column symbolizes a life cut short, often men who died in their twenties or thirties.

The drapery connotes mourning and sadness.

Mausoleum at St. Luke's graveyard

Students pose in front of a large  mausoleum behind the St. Luke/St. Paul Church.

Notice the inverted torches on both sides of the door. This is a symbol of an extinguished life. If the upside down torch is lighted, as these two are, there is the promising message of eternal life after death in Heaven. When the torch is inverted and not lit, this means the end to the family name because there are no sons to carry it on.

The Latin inscription at the top of the mausoleum reads "Qui Christo Vivit Perire Nescit" ("He who knows Christ never perishes").

I found online someone who also wrote about this mausoleum in a blog called "Cocktails in Charleston."

The long narrow graveyard at St. Patrick Catholic Church 

A short walk from St. Luke's, on St. Philip Street, is St. Patrick Catholic Church, which has a smaller graveyard than St. Luke's.

This one consists mainly of neatly arranged in rows headstones, many dating to the pre-Civil War or Antebellum times.

A beautifully inscribed obelisk

A tall obelisk is an example of the elaborate Victorian Era grave monument. This one is not as tall as many that can be found in Charleston. But it makes up for its modest height with a litany of words and a handsome family crest.

Obelisks, a design dating to ancient times, is a symbol of a family or person's power, strength and wealth.

To the obelisk's right is a cross mounted on a platform of boulders. The boulders may also be interpreted as symbols of strength and power. But they can also refer to the earlier gravesites in ancient times when stones and boulders were placed over buried bodies to keep the dead from rising out of their graves.

Graveyard at St. Patrick's church on St. Philip Street

The view from the back of the graveyard at St. Patrick Catholic Church. The family plot seen in the forefront has several classic grave marker styles.

From left to right, we see a headstone that's angled at the top, a style common to the 18th and early 19th centuries. The smaller rounded headstone is characteristic of the mid-18th century and later. Another cross-on-boulder marker is next to that (see notes on this style above) and on the far right is a small pedestal tomb with vaulted top, a nod to power, wealth and stability.

Many thanks to the folks at St. Luke's and St. Patrick's churches for allowing us to visit their most interesting graveyards!


  1. There are many things in this day and age that are placed on the headstone for those who pay their respects to the gravesite.
    hallettstone memorials. I'm pleasure read this article.

  2. I enjoyed a visit to this graveyard today and was researching several stones and the mosalium above, which led me to your article. Thank you for your explanation of symbolism and the quote, I was unfamiliar with them.
    - Robin from Michigan