Tag Archives: Darcy McClain Thriller

Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina

Houses of Worship in Charleston SCWe started our second day in Charleston with a houses of worship tour. There were many more sites than the ones I had chosen, but time was a constraint, and we planned to return for a longer stay in the future. Our tour had actually begun the previous day on Sullivan’s Island when I spotted the steeple tower of Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church projecting high over Fort Moultrie. See photo of the fort and the church in my post about Fort Moultrie.

The current Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church is the second Catholic church on Sullivan’s Island, and is one of the oldest in the Charleston area. The first church to sit on the site was the Church of St. John the Baptist. Miraculously, it survived the extensive bombing of Fort Moultrie by federal troops and was the only public building left standing after the Civil War. The initial plan called for a restoration of the small wooden building. But Father Bermingham, vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston, decided to build a new church. He bought the present-day lot for $100 and was granted permission by the secretary of the war to use bricks from the ruins of Fort Moultrie to build the new church. Working side by side, Protestants and Catholics, most of them Irish immigrants who had come to the island to work on projects carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers, helped with the construction of the church. Upon completion, an elaborate ceremony was held to celebrate the dedication of Stella Maris. In attendance were both Protestants and Catholics.

St. Philip's Episcopal Church

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

First on my list was the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street, originally called the White Meeting House. Founded in 1681 by early colonialists, it was the city’s first non-Anglican church. The colonialists were labeled “dissenters,” and therefore forbidden to call the church a house of worship, only a meeting house. In 1804, the wooden meeting house was replaced with a circular brick building, which was destroyed by fire in 1861. In 1890, bricks from the ruins were used to create the present-day church. A stroll through the church’s cemetery is a must. One tombstone dates back to 1695.

Our next stop was St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, home to the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina and the first Anglican church south of Virginia. The first St. Philip’s Church was built between 1680 and 1681, a modest wooden building located at the corner of Board and Meeting streets. It was damaged in a hurricane in 1710, and a new St. Philip’s Church was built a few blocks away on Church Street. After several setbacks, the church was finally completed in 1723, but it burned to the ground in 1835 and was reconstructed.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

What lured me to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church was its iconic 186-foot-high massive white spire with eight bells imported from England in 1764. Of note, it was here in the cedar-box pews that George Washington and General Robert E. Lee worshipped. The first church to sit on this site was the first St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the wooden building damaged by the hurricane of 1710.

A friendly woman welcomed us as we climbed the steps to the French Huguenot Church. I first learned about the denomination while living in South Africa. The church traces its beginnings to 1680 when French Protestants—Huguenots—were sent by King Charles II to the new colony as artisans and tradesmen. In 1685, when the Edict of Nantes (1598) was revoked, Huguenots arrived in numbers in America, where they could freely practice their Calvinistic faith. The Gothic Revival-style structure was built of brick and covered in rose-tinted stucco, complementing the roof’s black iron finials. I was quite captivated by the church’s appearance.

French Huguenot Church - houses of worshipThe Edict of Nantes was, in my opinion, Henri IV’s greatest achievement. The terms of the edict ensured the peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants and ended religious hostilities in France after thirty-six years of civil warfare. But in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the edict, and a Protestant exodus began. The French Huguenots who fled France for South Africa arrived in the Cape of Good Hope between 1688 and 1689. These French immigrants and their descendants made important contributions to the Western Cape’s viticulture and oenology industries, and to this day, a number of wine estates still bear their Huguenot surnames.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has dominated the Charleston landscape for over a hundred years and is one of the many churches that gives Charleston its nickname “The Holy City.” The Gothic Revival cathedral is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and is considered the “mother church.” It was built in 1854 on a less-than-holy site—Vauxhall Gardens—a post-Revolutionary “pleasure garden.” The cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of 1861 and was rebuilt on the foundation of the previous church. The structure is a Connecticut brownstone with a five-light window copied from Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and a beautiful rose window.

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim SynagogueFounded in 1749, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) Synagogue is the second oldest Jewish house of worship in the US and the oldest one in continuous use. Charleston was known for its religious tolerance, so people of the Jewish faith began emigrating to “The Holy City” as early as 1695. The oldest synagogue in the US is Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Across the street from KKBE is St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the first Roman Catholic church in the Carolinas and Georgia. By the late eighteenth century, Charleston had a sufficient number of Catholic immigrants to warrant building a church. In 1788, Reverend Ryan, an Irish priest, arrived in Charleston, and in 1801 construction began on the church. In the meantime, the congregation worshipped in the dilapidated Methodist meeting house that was on the site. Most of the church burned during the Charleston fire of 1838. It was rebuilt and completed in 1839 in the Classical Revival style.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

The last church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, brought tears to my eyes—tears for the nine fatally shot on June 2015 during weekly Bible study. The Gothic Revival building with its signature steeple was built in 1891, replacing a wooden building from 1872 that was damaged during the Charleston earthquake of 1886. The church dates back to 1816, when Morris Brown organized a withdrawal of the Charleston Methodist Episcopal Church’s black members over a burial ground dispute. The newly formed congregation soon established themselves as an AME, a denomination founded in Philadelphia by Reverend Richard Allen, and it is the oldest AME church in the South.

Side note: I had no idea how many fires Charleston had experienced until I dug into the city’s history. Learn more here on the Preservation Society of Charleston website and click on “Fires.” Also of interest is this article on “The Great Charleston Fire of 1861.”

We spent the rest of the day soaking up Charleston’s history, enjoying its charm, and admiring its architecture, ending with dinner at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad)—shrimp with grits and peanut butter pie. On December 3rd, I will begin a series of blog posts on the topic of writing.

Next week: “Let’s Talk Writing.”

Fort Moultrie: Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

In my last post, I blogged about my alma mater, Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in Harrogate, Tennessee, in the Cumberland Gap, near the junction where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet. Proud of the university’s continued success, high college rankings, and flourishing private school, I satisfied my renewed curiosity in the campus and the history of the region by doing some in-depth research on the school and eastern Tennessee in general. This delving led me to Dr. Earl J. Hess’s book, Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia. I immediately placed my Amazon order, only to discover that the book is temporarily out of stock. Dr. Hess is a student of Civil War history and grew up in rural Missouri. Since 1989, he has been at LMU and is an associate professor of history. He is also well published. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of his book.

The morning after we visited LMU, a heavy smoky-blue fog hung over the mountains, and mist specked our jackets as we prepared to leave the Inn on Biltmore Estate for the drive from Asheville to Charleston, South Carolina. Although the hotel staff in Charleston had assured us the city hadn’t experienced severe flooding, we decided to leave Asheville early, giving ourselves plenty of time to make the four-hour drive south, especially since Columbia was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Joaquin. As it turned out, we experienced no high-water delays along Highway 26 but did lose an hour stuck in two accidents. One involved several cars—no one badly injured, thank goodness—and the other, unfortunately, was a deer hit by an SUV.

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Charleston is a charming, colorful town, steeped in history. Although I love all things modern and thrive on being a minimalist, I have a fascination for historic buildings—their architecture and their stories. The moment I threw back the curtains in our hotel room at the Belmond Charleston Place, I immediately noticed all the church spires. Other loves of mine are houses of worship and cemeteries, so a church tour was definitely on my agenda. But first Dave wanted to see the waterfront, so we put our church tour on hold until the next day.

Waterfront Park Promenade

Waterfront Park Promenade

We stepped out of our hotel to a humid, subtropical afternoon, but as we neared Waterfront Park a soft breeze coming off the coast squelched any real heat. The park has great views of the Charleston Harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a white, cable-stayed suspension bridge with two diamond-shaped towers that spans the Cooper River. It connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant and is an impressive 573 feet high and 2.7 miles long, and it has eight lanes in addition to a shared twelve-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path.

After we strolled Waterfront Park and snapped shots of the water fountains and a sailboat cruising the harbor waters, we took a leisurely walk through the cobblestoned side streets, just soaking in the sunshine and our surroundings, and working up our dinner appetites. That night, we had reservations at McCrady’s Tavern, built in 1778. The restaurant’s entrance is located down a narrow cobblestone alley off East Bay Street. The service was excellent and the food good.


On our first full day in Charleston, we drew straws, figuratively, and agreed to take our island tour in the morning and our house of worship tour in the afternoon. We both wanted to visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. We grabbed coffees to go, hopped into our rental, and sped away toward the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie, a coastal fortification, was built to guard the harbors and shores of the United States from as early as the first European settlements until the end of World War II. Fort Moultrie has defended Charleston Harbor twice: during the American Revolutionary War when it was attacked by the British fleet, and again nearly a century later during the Civil War when federal forces bombarded Charleston from land and sea. In 1776, after a nine-hour battle when Charleston was saved from British occupation, the fort was named for its commander, William Moultrie.

In early March of 1776, Colonel Moultrie, a former militiaman who was later promoted to general, was ordered to Sullivan’s Island to build a seacoast defense on the shielded harbor. The purpose was to make an invasion as costly as possible, or better still, to prevent invaders from landing. It was unrealistic to think that such a fort, even one well armed with troops and cannons, could annihilate the enemy, but it could certainly slow them down. Any large vessel entering Charleston had to first cross Charleston Bar, a series of submerged sandbanks lying about eight miles from the city. Most ships ran aground and became stuck, and were then more vulnerable to attack.

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Work on the square-shaped fort began by cutting thousands of spongy palmetto logs, which became the foundation for an immense pen, five hundred feet long and sixteen feet wide, filled with sand to stop the shot. The workers constructed cannon platforms and nailed them together with spikes. During the construction, George Washington dispatched General Charles Lee and two thousand soldiers to assist in Charleston’s defense. Lee’s appearance alone boosted morale among the South Carolina troops. But after Lee viewed Charleston’s defenses, his worries mounted. Moultrie commanded only thirty-one cannons and a garrison of less than four hundred men. And the fort was hastily erected, with only thick planks guarding the powder magazine, and the curtain walls on the north side of the fort weren’t even finished.

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

In mid-May, Charlestonians received word that the formidable British fleet was massing at Cape Fear. On June 1, the fleet finally appeared, about fifty sail in all, and anchored outside of the bar. Moultrie termed the battle “one continual blaze and roar,” and it raged on for hours, until the garrison was running out of powder. Word was sent to Lee, and seven hundred pounds of powder reached the fort defenders later in the day, allowing them to fend off the enemy. The British had used thirty-two thousand pounds of powder and the Americans less than five thousand. Within days of the battle came the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Next week: “Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina.”

Europe 2013: Suances, Spain

Santander SpainSunday morning I stood on the balcony of our room at the Altis Avenida Hotel in Lisbon and watched people pour from the underground metro. Across the street policemen gathered. Curious, I glanced up and down the avenue. More officers hiked the gradual grade and lingered at the corner to converse. I wondered if Portugal’s terror alert level had shifted higher after the murder of Lee Rigby in London. As more officers and then men in military uniforms began to gather en masse, I moved to the balcony off our bathroom, which had a better view of the street that ran in front of our hotel. Now, military personnel flanked both sides of the avenue and stood in the median strip. Erring on the safe side, I told Dave, then called the front desk. The woman on duty said it was an annual military event but didn’t say of what kind. She seemed nonplussed, so I thanked her and hung up but kept a watchful eye until we had packed and were ready to leave for the airport. We had a plane to catch to Santander, via Madrid.

Security at the Lisbon Portela Airport was tight, but all of Europe was on heightened alert, the TAP agent at the terminal informed us, especially after the murder of Lee Rigby and the stabbing of the French soldier Cédric Cordier. Her comment came as a surprise, as we hadn’t heard or read about this latest incident. We boarded, and the hour-and-fifteen-minute flight went fast. From Madrid we flew to Santander, a short fifty-five-minute ride, then rented a car for our three-day stay in Suances, which is on the central coast in the province of Cantabria. I had questioned Dave about visiting this part of northern Spain, as I had heard it can be cold, wet, and somewhat dreary in May, but his mind was made up. Since I had never been disappointed with his travel choices, I went along. And as I’ve stated in an earlier blog post, growing up overseas had taught me from a young age to simply go with the flow. Well, my “flow” was about to be put to the test…in a minor way.

Suances SpainRain followed us on our drive from Santander to Suances, and we never saw the sun again that day. As we closed in on afternoon, the temperature began to fall, and a cold breeze snaked its way into the car. Thankfully, the antibiotics had knocked out our colds, so I wasn’t concerned about the inclement weather. When we pulled into the front lot of the Albatros Hotel, Dave looked at me and said, “Uh, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.” I asked him what he expected from a hotel with the word “albatross” in its name. We checked in and followed the directions to our room. I have a keen sense of smell, and a faint musty odor hung in the dimly lit hall. The room was sparsely furnished, the bed resembled twin cots shoved together, and the shower drain in the dated bathroom was so clogged with hair, the water would not drain. I called housekeeping to unclog the shower and went to the window to see the tranquil view—cows grazed in a lush pasture, and patches of blue peeked through an overcast sky. We unpacked, and I suggested we go downstairs for a cocktail before dinner.

CilantroOn this trip we had two inside jokes. We could never find mustard for our sandwiches in any of the French delis we ate at, and no green olives for Dave’s vodka, not even in Italy of all places. We kidded each other about packing mustard before leaving on our next European trip and carrying olives as well. This reminded me of my father, who loved cilantro after being introduced to the herb in Mexico City. He would carry it with him in a small baggie and put it on almost everything. No wonder we kids love it.

Albatros Hotel SuancesIn the bar lounge, I ordered wine, and Dave a vodka on the rocks. When the server left, I asked, “Why didn’t you ask for olives?” He replied, “I’ve given up.” The server returned with our drinks, and to our surprise placed a bowl of large Spanish olives on the table “for us to snack on.” We explained our dilemma in Italy, and she said, “I know. There they make olive oil from them, but in Spain we eat them.” As for finding mustard in France, she said, “A lot of French people holiday in Suances, and the French love their mayonnaise.” We were about to find out just how much they loved it. We finished our drinks and went into the dining room for dinner. Because of the rain, we had decided to eat at our hotel rather than walk into town.

Our server handed us menus and left. We chose the fresh catch of the day, but the moment we placed our order, our server said, “Oh sorry, we don’t have any more fish. We have a French tour group at the hotel and they ate all of the fish. We only have beef.” We inquired about shrimp cocktail as a starter. Oh yes, they had plenty. The boiled shrimp arrived in the shell and with the heads on, which was fine, but swimming in mayonnaise? Not even tartare or spicy mayonnaise—just plain, warm mayo. I scraped the bland condiment off the shellfish, and we shared the starter. The meal did not improve. The beef was round steak: thin, the texture of shoe leather, and tasteless. We enjoyed our green salads, passed on dessert because the French tour group had eaten all of it, and instead finished our meal with a good Madeira. Although our stay hadn’t started as planned, the visit ended on a positive note. Overall, the room was clean and provided the basics, and the hotel staff was friendly and helpful, making up for any the shortcomings in the accommodations.

Next week: “Europe 2013: Gijón, Spain.”