2 Your Roots: St. Philip’s Church

2 Your Roots

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A National Historic Landmark that is home to the oldest congregation south of Virginia; in this week’s edition of 2 Your Roots, we take a trip to St. Philip’s Church.

Established as the first English church in South Carolina, the South Carolina Encyclopedia explains that in the late seventeenth century, colonists built a “large and stately” church on a brick foundation at the southeast corner of Broad and Meeting Streets. A 1697 deed refers to the church as “St. Philip’s.”

“In the early 18th century, the congregation built a second brick church at the site of the current church. It’s construction was partially funded by duties on rum and enslaved Africans.”

The National Park Service

The building burned to the ground in 1835, but members replaced it with a similar structure that was completed by 1838; the steeple was added a decade later. The cornerstone of the new St. Philip’s Church was laid on Nov. 12, 1835 and built on the foundation of the old one.

St. Philip’s has stood tall through its fair share of history. According to the South Carolina Encyclopedia, at the beginning of the Civil War, St. Philip’s Church donated its bells to the Confederate government to be cast into cannons.

“During the bombardment of Charleston, shells hit St. Philip’s ten times, piercing the roof and destroying the chancel and the organ. Repair work was finally completed in 1877, but the church was heavily damaged again in the 1886 earthquake.”

The South Carolina Encyclopedia

Throughout the next century:

  • The steeple served as a beacon to guide ships into the harbor from 1893 to 1915 and again briefly in 1921.
  • Repairs and expansions in the 1920’s provided additional space for the choir and organ.
  • A new marble altar and wooden reredos as well as the “All Saints” window by Clement Heaton enhanced the beauty of the interior.

Today, St. Philip’s continues its ministry with an active congregation. Divided into two parts, the churchyard is the burial site for several notable South Carolinian’s.

According to the National Park Service, the western yard was initially set aside for the burial of “strangers and transient white persons,” but church members were later buried there.

St. Philip’s website explains that the church is named for Philip, one of the 12 Apostles, who was born in Galilee and died a martyr. The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

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