While most people who celebrate Halloween dress up in fun and scary costumes whilst attending parties or accompanying their children trick or treating, I celebrated All Hallows’ Eve in a very different way — atop the oldest church edifice in Charleston (as well as one of the best Georgian churches in the United States). And, in all honesty, as a person with a severe fear of heights, I was charmed/terrified/ exhilarated all at the same time!
St. Michael’s Church
construction was begun in 1752 and completed in 1761. This alabaster beauty stands on the site occupied from c. 1682 to 1727 by the first St. Philip’s Church
, a black cypress wood structure on a brick foundation. It was demolished when the second St. Philip’s was completed on nearby Church Street. St. Philip’s Parish was divided in 1751, with the lower half becoming St. Michael’s Parish.
A Mr. Gibson (possibly Robert Gibson, Sr.) created the original design, but the plan was greatly altered by Samuel Cardy, an Irish architect. The white church is similar to St. Martin-in-the-Fields
, a London church designed by James Gibbs, including the division of hall, tower and portico. The construction of the steeple is considered a remarkable example of Colonial ingenuity in timber framing and masonry construction, as is the ceiling that covers the hall without visible support.
The clock and bells were imported from England in 1764. The bells were taken to England as war spoils by the British after the Revolution, but a London merchant purchased them and they were shipped back. During the Civil War, the bells were sent to Columbia for safe keeping, but were burned in the Great Fire there in 1865. However, the metal fragments were salvaged and sent to England to be recast and rehung. In 1993, the bells were again shipped to England for repairs and then returned. The bells have thus crossed the Atlantic seven times! (And, I would soon experience their resounding glory from inside the steeple.)
The steeple is 186 feet high (Yikes!), with a seven-and-a-half foot weather vane. The tower sank eight inches as a result of the 1886 earthquake. The clock was electrified in 1946 as a memorial to those who died in World War II. The steeple was a fire lookout and alarm tower until the late 19th century. It was an observation post in the Revolution, a signal station in the Civil War, an air raid siren station in World War II, and a gathering place for our group of 20 on Halloween night!
It was perhaps divine intervention that I happened to see a post on Instagram calling for those who wished to join the Reverend Al of St. Michael’s Church in prayer atop the glorious steeple. My brother, Richard and nephew, Austin, were coming to visit, so I called the number and reserved three spots for the special evening. It was hard to keep the secret once they arrived but, as we approached the church on foot, I spilled the beans pointing to the illuminated tower from across Broad Street and said, “In a few minutes, we’re going to be up there!”
Here’s my photographic gallery of the following two hours. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
What a blessing to be allowed to climb the historic steps and pray over the city of Charleston.
If you’re visiting Charleston and are looking for a wonderful place to worship, all our welcome. Maybe I’ll see you there. 🙂