Good Question: Who coined Charleston as “The Holy City”?


CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – Have you ever wondered why Charleston is known as “The Holy City”? You’re not alone. In this week’s Good Question, Dustin asked: “When, how and who coined Charleston as ‘The Holy City’?”

The answer might surprise you.

“No one completely knows for sure,” said Grahame Long, chief curator for the Charleston Museum.

Long talked about several different theories regarding this “Holy City”.

“Some people say that Charleston was founded on the basis of religious tolerance. That is somewhat true,” he said.

But then there is this…

“Some people say you can see a church steeple from every street or sidewalk you are walking on,” he said. “They may or may not be true, I’ve personally never tried it.”

Certainly, no shortages of churches on the peninsula, they are beautiful and full of history. But research is tending to show the nickname “The Holy City” has a much later origin than originally thought.

Long says it comes from an argument between history professor Yates Snowden and Charleston author John Bennett, who in writing friendly letters back and forth discussed differences – good and bad – between Charleston and Boston, Massachusetts. Both throwing around the term “Holy City” as to who loves their city more.

So, it’s here Long says, in the late 1800s when Bennett puts ink to paper and the Holy City is born.

“Charleston being referred to as the “Holy City” begins to show up, repeatedly, and from there is born this nickname as Charleston being the Holy City,” said Long. “So, unfortunately, not as old as we would like it to be, but evidence kind points to that conversation in the late 19th century. More so than certainly the earlier theories based around Charleston’s founding in the late 1600s.”

And while you may hear different theories from different people, the only thing we know for certain is that we may never know for sure.

“I wish we could solidly nail down where that nickname comes from and a time period,” he said.
“That would be great for people in the history business. When it comes to Charleston history there is a lot of variables.”

Click here if you have a question you want Brendan Clark to answer.


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