French Huguenot Church
One of the oldest congregations in town, the French Huguenot Church (44 Queen St., 843/722-4385, www.frenchhuguenotchurch.org, liturgy Sun. 10:30 a.m.) also has the distinction of being the only remaining independent Huguenot Church in the country. Founded around 1681 by French Calvinists, the church had about 450 congregants by 1700. While refugees from religious persecution, they weren’t destitute, as they had to pay for their passage to America.
As is the case with so many historic churches in the area, the building you see isn’t the original sanctuary. The first church was built on this site in 1687, and became known as the “Church of Tides” because at that time the Cooper River lapped at its property line. This sanctuary was deliberately destroyed as a firebreak during the great conflagration of 1796.
The church was replaced in 1800, but that building was in turn demolished in favor of the picturesque, stucco-coated Gothic Revival sanctuary you see today, which was completed in 1845 and subsequently survived Union shelling and the 1886 earthquake.
Does the church look kind of Dutch to you? There’s a good reason for that. In their diaspora, French Huguenots spent a lot of time in Holland and became influenced by the tidy sensibilities of the Dutch people.
The history of the circa-1845 organ is interesting as well. A rare “tracker” organ, so named for its ultra-fast linkage between the keys and the pipe valves, it was built by famed organ builder Henry Erben. After the fall of Charleston in 1865, Union troops had begun dismantling the instrument for shipment to New York when the church organist, T. P. O’Neale, successfully pleaded with them to let it stay.
Sunday services are conducted in English now, but a single annual service in French is still celebrated in April. The unique Huguenot Cross of Languedoc, which you’ll occasionally see ornamenting the church, is essentially a Maltese Cross, its eight points representing the eight beatitudes. Between the four arms of the cross are four fleurs-de-lis, the age-old French symbol of purity.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition