In 1854, the first Roman Catholic cathedral in Charleston was completed, but it burned to the ground just seven years later, during the Great Fire of 1861. At 218 feet, it had been the tallest building in Charleston.
In 1907, the current building, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, opened at the same Broad Street site, but funding had been insufficient to build the steeple.
Now, more than 100 years later, plans have been laid to finish the job once and for all.
A capital fundraising campaign launched two years ago raised enough money to pay for the repair of the cathedral’s stained-glass windows, and continued fundraising is expected to enable the Diocese of Charleston to repair the brownstone facade and erect a bell tower and steeple, according to Sharon Walker, cathedral historian. The work is expected to continue through 2009, she said.
The tower is to be fitted with three bells procured from Christoph Paccard Bell Foundry in France. The foundry, established in 1796, has made 120,000 bells over the centuries, including some for several Charleston churches. The Catholic diocese is paying $140,000 for its set.
Together, the bells will form an E-major chord, Walker said. The G-sharp bell is meant to complement the sound issuing from the tower of St. John’s Lutheran Church nearby.
“The chords were chosen to add our own unique signature to the city, and to enhance the soundscape of the Holy City,” said the Rev. Gregory Wilson, Cathedral priest.
Once complete, the bell tower and steeple will reach 168 feet into the air.
On Saturday at 7 p.m., the diocese is sponsoring the “Ball for the Bells” fundraising event, to be held at the Charleston Visitor Center and featuring live music and food prepared by local chefs. Proceeds from the $100 tickets will be used to buy the bells.
For more about the black-tie-optional event, call 724-8395.
By: Adam Parker
The Post and Courier