Spiritual home to Savannah’s Irish community  and the oldest Catholic church in Georgia, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (222. E. Harris St., 912/233-4709, www.savannahcathedral.org , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m. with a break for mass noon–12:30 p.m., Sunday services 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., Latin mass 1 p.m.) was initially known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
It’s the place to be for mass at 8 a.m. the morning of March 17, as the clans gather in their green jackets and white dresses to take a sip of communion wine before moving on to harder stuff in honor of St. Patrick.
Despite its overt Celtic character today, the parish was originally founded by Haitian émigrés who arrived after an uprising in their native country in the late 1700s. They were joined by other Gallic Catholics when some nobles fled from the French Revolution.
The first sanctuary on the site was built in 1873, after the diocese traded a lot at Taylor and Lincoln Streets to the Sisters of Mercy in exchange for this locale. In a distressingly common event back then in Savannah , fire swept the edifice in 1898, leaving only two spires and the external walls. In an amazing story of determination and skill, the cathedral was completely rebuilt within a year and a half.
In the years since, many renovations have been undertaken, including an interior renovation following the Vatican Council II to incorporate some of its sweeping reforms, for example, a new altar allowing the celebrant to face the congregation. The most recent renovation, from 1998 to 2000, involved the intricate removal, cleaning, and re-leading of more than 50 of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, a roof replacement, and an interior makeover.
When inside the magnificent interior, look for the new 9,000-pound altar and the 8,000-pound baptismal font, both made of Italian marble. The stained-glass window of the Virgin Mary is the largest of the three windows that survived the great fire of 1898.
In 2003, an armed man entered the Cathedral and set the pulpit and bishop’s chair on fire, resulting in nearly $400,000 of damage. The pulpit you see now is an exact replica carved in Italy. The arsonist claimed he did it as a statement against organized religion.