While most call our dear city Charleston, others prefer one of its nicknames, Chucktown. But for many, the historic Southern city is referred to by another name: the Holy City. In the 1600s, the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina guaranteed settlers religious liberty, making the city a safe haven for people from all over Europe trying to escape religious prosecution. Out of the 13 colonies, laws in the Carolinas guaranteed individuals the widest measure of religious freedom. Today, more than 400 churches with their majestic steeples dot the city skyline, proving Charleston to be a spiritual mecca for any and all to partake in.
Take a stroll down the Historic District’s cobblestone streets and explore all the Holy City has to offer. Just make sure to look up.
Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church – 110 Calhoun Street
Throughout its lifetime, Mother Emanuel has been a place of worship intertwined with history. The oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South, it was built in 1816 as a place of refuge for slaves and freedmen. From slave rebellions plotted in its sanctuary, to visits from civil rights icons such as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Emanuel has been a cornerstone in the black community locally and nationally. On June 17, 2015, nine parishioners were slain, but the church continues to remain a symbol of hope and strength.
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue – 90 Hasell Street
Charleston is acknowledged as the birthplace of Reform Judaism in the United States. The city has the earliest documentation of Jewish people in the 1695 English settlement, and soon after, other Jews followed in pursuit of religious liberty in South Carolina. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue is the oldest synagogue building in continuous use in the United States and is also neighbors with Belmond Charleston Place. The colonnaded temple is renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture, a National Historic Landmark, and can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. Belmond Charleston Place can book private tours upon request.
First Baptist Church – 61 Church Street
Founded in in 1682, this church is the first First Baptist church in the South. While the house of worship may be in pristine state today, it is not shy to damage and natural disasters. It has endured destruction during the Civil War, the cyclone of 1885, the earthquake of 1886 and Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church – 71 Broad Street
Standing on the site of the first Anglican Church south of Virginia, St. Michael’s Church was built in 1680, making it the oldest church building in the city. The large, long double-pew in the center of the church was originally known as ‘The Governor’s Pew,’ and it is the one in which President George Washington sat when he attended in 1791 and Robert E. Lee in 1861. Today, the church is considered a National Historic Landmark, and continues to represent Ecclesiastical Law as it resides in its prominent position at the ‘Four Corners of Law’.
Circular Congregational Church – 150 Meeting Street
Featuring seven great doors and 26 windows, Robert Mills, Charleston’s leading architect, designed this Pantheon-type building in 1695. It is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark. From its beginning the congregation challenged the established order, and this tradition has continued throughout their history. In the 1960s, the church took a stand for the integration of churches and in 2007, added a new “green” education building representing their commitment to environmental sustainability. The graveyard at the Circular Congregational Church is the city’s oldest burial grounds with monuments dating hundreds of years.
French Huguenot Church – 136 Church Street
Founded in 1681 by 45 French Huguenot refugees, the French Protestant Church of Charleston was the first of its kind in the Holy City. The Gothic Revival building features stucco over brick, ornamented with windows, buttresses, plus eye-catching decorative details. Truly, it is no wonder this church is found on the Historic National Register. While this architectural style was uncommon during the antebellum period in Charleston, the use of wrought iron and pink exterior reflects iconic Lowcountry charm. To this day, the French Huguenot Church is the only remaining independent Huguenot Church in the nation.
Explore the charming streets of Charleston and discover for yourself why it is called the Holy City.