Cathedral of St. John – Charleston, South Carolina

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The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is located in downtown Charleston and has been a fixture of the city’s landscape for over a hundred years. It is also home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston. The Cathedral of St. John is one of the many downtown churches that gives Charleston its nickname of “The Holy City.” However, the land on which this ornate church sits was once home to a less-than-holy “pleasure garden” known as Vauxhall Gardens.

St. John the Baptist

Henryk Sadura of Chicago, IL © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Vauxhall Gardens served as a post-Revolutionary entertainment venue, complete with bathing rooms and a circus. On May 3, 1821, Bishop John England – the first bishop of Charleston – purchased the Vauxhall property for a Catholic place of worship and christened its building St. Finbar’s. The building served the fledgling congregation well until a proper cathedral could be built. In 1850 construction began on a cathedral for the church, which was called the Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar. It was designed by noted architect Patrick Charles Keely and consecrated in 1854. Sadly, the Great Fire of 1861, started by a factory on nearby Hasell Street, destroyed much of the city, including the cathedral. Also lost in the fire were 17,000 volumes from the church’s Seminary Library. The gate and fence were spared, however, and remain today.

Chelsea Pfaehler of Lexington, 2007 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The congregation temporarily worshiped in Hibernian Hall and built an interim church at 105 Queen Street following the fire. Insurance on the cathedral had expired at the time of the fire, and it took the congregation decades to afford a new building of the desired style and grandeur. Finally the cornerstone of this building was laid in 1890, and the church was completed in 1907. The first builder of the cathedral, Henry L. Cade, died during construction. He was succeeded by Henry Oliver. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is considered the “mother church” of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston.

Reflections on the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

16-year old photographer Chelsea Pfaehler, who took the above photo, writes: “This building, for me, showed a lot of the history and diversity of Charleston! It was just a beautiful building and for some reason, it brought forth a lot of unexplainable emotion. I guess to see how old it was and that a lot of people don’t appreciate the beauty of history. I was so happy to capture that beauty! I also noticed this building while I was with my aunt in a garden that was open to the public and the greenery that was included in the foreground showed the natural side of Charleston as well!”

Add your own reflections here.

Cathedral of St. John Info

Address: 120 Broad Street, Charleston, SC 29401

Cathedral of St. John Map

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