In a town filled with cool old church cemeteries, the coolest belongs to the Unitarian Church (4 Archdale St., 843/723-4617, www.charlestonuu.org, service Sun. 11 a.m., free tours Fri.–Sat. 10 a.m.–1 p.m.) As a nod to the beauty and power of nature, vegetation and shrubbery in the cemetery have been allowed to take their natural course (walkways excepted).
Virginia creeper wraps around 200-year-old grave markers, honeybees feed on wildflowers, and tree roots threaten to engulf entire headstones. The whole effect is oddly relaxing and one of my favorite places in Charleston.
The Unitarian Church itself—the second-oldest such edifice in Charleston and the oldest Unitarian sanctuary in the South—is pretty nice, too. Begun in 1776 because of overcrowding at the Circular Congregational Church, the brand-new building saw rough usage by British troops during the Revolution. In 1787 the church was repaired, though it was not officially chartered as a Unitarian church until 1839.
An extensive modernization happened in 1852, during which the current English Perpendicular Gothic Revival walls were installed, along with the beautiful stained-glass windows. The church was spared in the fire of 1861, which destroyed the old Circular Church itself but stopped at the Unitarian Church’s property line. Sadly, it was not so lucky during the 1886 earthquake, which toppled the original tower. The version you see today is a subsequent and less grand design.
Directly next door is St. John’s Lutheran Church (5 Clifford St., 843/723-2426, www.stjohnscharleston.org, worship Sun. 8:30 and 11 a.m.), which had its origin in 1742 when Dr. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg stopped in town for a couple of days on his way to minister to the burgeoning Salzburger colony in Ebenezer, Georgia. He would later be known as the father of the Lutheran Church in America. To see the sanctuary at times other than Sunday mornings, go by the office next door Monday—Friday 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and they’ll let you take a walk through the interior.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition