St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
The oldest church in South Carolina, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (71 Broad St., 843/723-0603, mass Sun. 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., tours available after services) is actually the second sanctuary on this spot. The first church here was made out of black cypress, and called St. Philip’s or “the English Church,” which was later rebuilt on Church Street.
Though the designer is not known, we do know that work on this sanctuary in the style of Sir Christopher Wren began in 1752 as a response to the overflowing congregation at the rebuilt St. Philip’s, and it didn’t finish until 1761. Other than a small addition on the southeast corner in 1883, the St. Michael’s you see today is virtually unchanged, including the massive pulpit, outsized in the style of the time.
Worship services here over the years hosted such luminaries as Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington, and Robert E. Lee, the latter two of whom are known to have sat in the “governor’s pew.” Two signers of the U.S. Constitution, John Rutledge and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, are buried in the sanctuary.
The 186-foot steeple, painted black during the Revolution in a futile effort to disguise it from British guns, actually sank eight inches after the earthquake of 1886. Inside the tower, the famous “bells of St. Michael’s” have an interesting story to tell, having made seven transatlantic voyages for a variety of reasons. They were forged in London’s Whitechapel Foundry and sent over in 1764, only to be brought back as a war prize during the Revolution, after which they were returned to the church.
Damaged during the Civil War, they were sent back to the foundry of their birth to be recast and returned to Charleston. In 1989 they were damaged by Hurricane Hugo, sent back to Whitechapel yet again, and returned to St. Michael’s in 1993. Throughout the lifespan of the bells, the clock tower has continued to tell time, though the minute hand wasn’t added until 1849.
St. Michael’s offers informal, free guided tours to visitors after Sunday worship services; contact the greeter for more information.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition