St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
With a pedigree dating back to the colony’s fledgling years, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (142 Church St., 843/722-7734, www.stphilipschurchsc.org, sanctuary open weekdays 10 a.m.–noon and 2–4 p.m., mass Sun. 8:15 a.m.) is the oldest Anglican congregation south of Virginia. That pedigree gets a little complicated and downright tragic at times, but any connoisseur of Charleston history needs to be clear on the fine points:
The first St. Philip’s was built in 1680 at the corner of Meeting Street and Broad Street, the present site of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. That first St. Philip’s was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1710, and the city fathers approved the building of a new sanctuary dedicated to the saint on Church Street. However, that building was nearly destroyed by yet another hurricane during construction. Fighting with local Native Americans further delayed rebuilding in 1721.
Alas, that St. Philip’s burned to the ground in 1835—a distressingly common fate for so many old buildings in this area. Construction immediately began on a replacement, and it’s that building you see today. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, a $4.5-million renovation kept the church usable.
So to recap: St. Philip’s was originally on the site of the present St. Michael’s. And while St. Philip’s is the oldest congregation in South Carolina, St. Michael’s has the oldest physical church building in the state. Are we clear?
South Carolina’s great statesman John C. Calhoun—who ironically despised Charlestonians for what he saw as their loose morals—was originally buried across Church Street in the former “stranger’s churchyard,” or West Cemetery, after his death in 1850. (Charles Pinckney and Edward Rutledge are two other notable South Carolinians buried there.)
But near the end of the Civil War, Calhoun’s body was moved to an unmarked grave closer to the sanctuary in an attempt to hide its location from Union troops, who it was feared would go out of their way to wreak vengeance on the tomb of one of slavery’s staunchest advocates and the man who invented the doctrine of nullification. In 1880, with Reconstruction in full swing, the state legislature directed and funded the building of the current large memorial in the West Cemetery.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition