Monday, March 13, 2017

The Joys of Discovering a "New" Charleston Church and Graveyard!

St. Mary of the Annunciation Catholic Church on Huger Street in downtown Charleston is hardly new, but to me attending Mass there yesterday, then walking through the small but impressive graveyard, was a new and exciting "find" and experience.

St. Mary's address is 89 Hasell St,. near King Street
The history page on the church's website boasts that St. Mary's is the "mother church of Catholicism in the Carolinas and Georgia."

Its establishment dates to 1789 when it was called the Roman Catholic Church of Charleston.

Mass still takes place inside the elegant Greek Revival structure, but only once a weekend, Sundays at 9:30 a.m.

Mass underway at St. Mary's
Alesia and I attended yesterday's Mass. Wow, what a beautiful, artistic sanctuary it is.

All of the small pew boxes were full and there were also many people upstairs in the balcony, with the choir and large organ.

Though founded in 1789, the church would not be built until 1806. It would be destroyed along with two-thirds of Charleston in a massive 1838 fire. The church would be rebuilt and reopened 14 months later.

The beautiful altar at S

The Cruxification painting above the altar dates to 1814. It was damaged in the 1838 fire but then restored to full glory by the original artist, John S. Cogdell.

St. Mary's offers a full color palette in all directions. Lovely stained glass windows and paintings on each wall and up on the ceiling as well.

More than 200 years old now, Cogdell's Christ on the Cross painting is the focal point, as is should be.

The church website says 23 paintings adorn the sanctuary, replicas of masterpieces, each painted by Caesare Porta of Rome, Italy.

"Included in these is a portrait of St. Peter, with six toes on his right foot," the website states.

I looked a bit for that one, but didn't find it. Maybe on another visit!

View from the balcony

After Mass, we went up to the balcony, which features this view of the intimate and artistic interior.

The organ was in fine form Sunday

The massive Jardine organ dates to 1874, according to the church website, which also says an earlier organ was destroyed by a Union shell during the bombardment of Confederate Charleston in 1864.

Traditional headstones in the graveyard at St. Mary's

As impressive as St. Mary's is inside, the graveyard that wraps around its walls is exceptional as well.

The quality of most of the old markers is quite remarkable!

"The church has a crowded graveyard of local interest," the church history link says. "Predominant inscriptions are written in Latin, French and English. Seventeen nationalities are represented spanning two centuries and three continents." says 653 people are interred in the small churchyard. I never would have imagined such a large number here!

Table tops- I've never seen so many in one place! 

I counted seven or eight of these unique grave markers

I was especially impressed by seeing so many table top grave markers. And each was in very good condition, for being so old.

This table top is very well protected

One grave monuments' website says table tops were popular in America during colonial times.

"Table tombs protect the body from natural disasters, vandals and grave robbers," says the "Ghostly Activities" site.

This table top tomb at St. Mary's is extra special with an iron fence tightly surrounding it.

Perhaps this is a type of mausoleum

The small churchyard has an interesting mix of grave markers and memorials.

De Grasse box tomb

The de Grasse name, seen on this box tomb, is prominent in St. Mary's history. The Marquis de Grasse, according to the website, came to Charleston from Santa Domingo in 1793 during an insurrection there.

Earlier during the American Revolution he would command naval forces under the Marquis de Lafayette in the decisive defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1791.

Two of de Grasse's daughters were buried here at St. Mary's.

De Grasse lion  coat of arms looks fierce!

The de Grasse coat of arms can be seen at the top of the tomb.

Cold but content on a blustery March morning in Charleston!

What a special Sunday morning it was for us at St. Mary's Catholic Church- inside and out.

I must give credit to Charleston historian and tour guide Ruth Miller who talked about St. Mary's being the first in the Carolinas and Georgia when she spoke at my "Beyond the Grave" class recently.

Always new- and old- things to discover in Charleston, the Holy City!

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