Cathedral History

T he congregation, that today worships both inside and outside the walls, of The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul was first gathered and organized as a mission in the first decade of the 19th century. Known as the “Third Church” of Charleston Episcopalians, the congregation gathered and worshiped in the old French Church (not the present-day French Huguenot Church on Church Street).

Desiring a building that would offer proper thanksgiving for the Lord’s blessings, the congregation began the efforts needed to yield such a structure. Land was given by Mrs. Lucretia Radcliffe, and construction begun in 1811 under the supervision of architects, James and John Gordon. The building was completed in 1815 and consecrated in 1816 by Bishop Theodore Dehon, the third Bishop of South Carolina. It was the first of the Episcopal churches in the area to be consecrated by an American Bishop, was named St. Paul’s, Radcliffeborough. Only a year later it served as the venue of the 29th Diocesan Convention in 1817.

In its early years, St. Paul’s primarily served the outlying plantation families, and was thus known by the nickname the “Planters’ Church”.

The style of architecture is typical of the period, the interior being almost devoid of ornamentation with the exception of the chancel which, according to Dalcho the historian, is “richly painted, and ornamented with Corinthian pilasters having gilt capitals”. In touring the building, one will notice that a similar description applies today, as during the redecorating of the interior after the devastating hurricane of 1989, the colors and applications first used in 1815 were employed as much as current means allowed.

The building was in continuous use during the War Between the States, harboring congregations from those churches nearer the strongholds of the Union forces, whose cannons bombarded the city constantly. The church’s bell was dismantled and sent to Columbia to be melted down in support of the Confederate cause.

For the most part, the interior must appear very much as it did in 1815,  a major exception being that of the stained-glass windows added later.  In addition, the box pews were replaced in 1872 and the pulpit was moved from the middle aisle to its present location.

In 1949, the Parish enfolded the congregation of St. Luke’s on Charlotte Street, long closely associated with St. Paul’s, and the first combined service was held on Sunday, July 17, 1949.  Later, the present building was designated the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Gray Temple was officially “seated” here in November, 1963.

The stained-glass windows in the apse of the sanctuary were installed in the fall of 1991 and, consistent with the post-hurricane restoration, are in the style of Sir Christopher Wren, the 17th century architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. They were designed and constructed by Willett Studios of Philadelphia and portray, on the left and right, the patron saints of the Cathedral (St. Luke and St. Paul) with the center window depicting the crucified Christ, together with St. Mary and St. John.

This splendid building is renowned for its acoustical properties and is often sought by performing artists, particularly during the Spoleto Festival. It has experienced many changes and much history, yet remains to this day not only a tribute to the past but, with an active and growing congregation, a household of faith as well as the “seat” of the Bishop of South Carolina.

Visitors and newcomers are welcome to worship, witness and work with us in upholding the Christian Faith as embodied in Anglican tradition.