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The Beauty of Holiness

The Beauty of Holiness: Anglicanism and Architecture in Colonial South Carolina

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  • Book Info
    The Beauty of Holiness
    Book Description:

    Intermingling architectural, cultural, and religious history, Louis Nelson reads Anglican architecture and decorative arts as documents of eighteenth-century religious practice and belief. InThe Beauty of Holiness, he tells the story of the Church of England in colonial South Carolina, revealing how the colony's Anglicans negotiated the tensions between the persistence of seventeenth-century religious practice and the rising tide of Enlightenment thought and sentimentality.Nelson begins with a careful examination of the buildings, grave markers, and communion silver fashioned and used by early Anglicans. Turning to the religious functions of local churches, he uses these objects and artifacts to explore Anglican belief and practice in South Carolina. Chapters focus on the role of the senses in religious understanding, the practice of the sacraments, and the place of beauty, regularity, and order in eighteenth-century Anglicanism. The final section of the book considers the ways church architecture and material culture reinforced social and political hierarchies.Richly illustrated with more than 250 architectural images and photographs of religious objects,The Beauty of Holinessdepends on exhaustive fieldwork to track changes in historical architecture. Nelson imaginatively reconstructs the history of the Church of England in colonial South Carolina and its role in public life, from its early years of ambivalent standing within the colony through the second wave of Anglicanism beginning in the early 1750s.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0568-5
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-10)

    “Long may it remain, a monument to the refinement and piety of an age and a generation that have long passed away.”¹ With these words, the Reverend Drayton concluded his sermon for the 165th anniversary and rededication of the remote parish church of St. James, Goose Creek (FIG. I.1). He stood amidst the monuments surrounding the early colonial church, preaching to a congregation of a thousand or more. Mounted over the door behind him, a rustic arch read, “A temple shadowy with remembrances of the majestic past”; and over the pulpit inside was written, “Gently, without grief, the old shall...

  5. PART I Constructing Material Religion

    • Chapter 1 THE CITY CHURCHES
      (pp. 13-56)

      In June 1753 theGentleman’s Magazinepublished an engraving of the west prospect of “St. Philip’s Church in Charles Town, South Carolina” (FIG. 1.1).¹ Shade and shadow exaggerate the monumentality of the building’s three giant-order Tuscan porticos, while engaged pilasters carrying a continuous cornice extend the classical order to the body of the church. Rising from behind the porticos, a tall cupola of two octagonal stages supports a dome, a square lantern, and a cock weathervane.² St. Philip’s was far superior in finish and scale to the tenements, small shops, and houses that lined the streets of the colonial city...

      (pp. 57-112)

      Sheltered in long stretches by a canopy of live oak trees and Spanish moss, U.S. Highway 61 follows an ancient path northwest from Charleston toward the rice plantations that once lined the Ashley River. About twelve miles out from the city, the church of St. Andrew’s Parish stands on a slight rise (FIG. 2.1). Begun as a simple rectangle in 1706 and expanded in 1723 to a cruciform plan, St. Andrew’s contains the oldest building fabric of any church in South Carolina. White-painted stucco covers the brick walls, rusticated quoins mark their corners, and arched windows light the interior. Double...

      (pp. 113-138)

      Positioned above the chancel window of St. Stephen’s Parish Church is a curious signature, two perpendicular bricks inscribed with fine lime mortar (FIG. 3.1). The horizontal brick reads, “W Axson 1767,” naming a cabinet-maker who played a key role in the design and construction of the church and the year of its completion. Drawn from contemporary print sources, the vertical brick includes a caricature of Freemasonry, the mysterious fraternity with roots in the guilds of ancient masons (FIG. 3.2). The crossed square and compass below William Axson’s name confirms the cabinetmaker’s membership in the organization. Such a bold self-promotion by...

  6. PART II Belief and Ritual in Material Religion

    • Chapter 4 SENSING THE SACRED
      (pp. 141-174)

      Not long after the death of her nineteen-year-old son Benjamin on January 17, 1718, Sarah Seabrook sent for a stone to mark his grave near their church in the South Carolina plantation parish of St. Paul’s (FIG. 4.1). Like many of her contemporaries, Sarah ordered a stone from New England, since South Carolina had neither the raw materials nor the artisans to produce headstones.¹ Standing little more than fourteen inches tall, the stone followed the formulaic geometry of most slate markers in the colony. A square tablet carries the vital information about Benjamin, including his date of death, family associations,...

      (pp. 175-216)

      A diminutive but graceful white marble baptismal basin once stood in the small chapel now called Pompion Hill (pronounced “pun-kin hill”) (FIG. 5.1). The sunburst or glory laid out in brick in the crossing square in the very center of the church floor suggests that the font was originally intended to rise from that crossing, the middle of three liturgical centers: pulpit, font, and chancel (FIG. 5.2). Standing tall on the western wall of the church is one of the most spectacular Anglican fittings to survive in South Carolina (FIG. 5.3). Working with an unidentified carver, the carpenter William Axson...

      (pp. 217-250)

      A large venetian window illumines the shallow semicircular and arched chancel of Charleston’s St. Michael’s Church (1752–61) (FIG. 6.1). While the decorative stenciling, Tiffany window, and other ornamental work dates from the early twentieth century, the form of the chancel and its elegant wrought-iron rail survive intact from the colonial period. A genteel, free-standing pulpit rises before the chancel, elevating both the minister and his sermon. A panel-fronted gallery supported by fluted Ionic columns stands on three sides of the chamber and elevates an organ to the west, opposite the eastern chancel and pulpit (FIG. 6.2). Scores of boxed...

  7. PART III Material Religion and Social Practice

      (pp. 253-278)

      Not far from the strip malls of South Carolina Highway 52 stands an ancient church still protected from suburban sprawl by a sheltering wood (FIG. 7.1). An architectural frontispiece of pilasters, entablature, and pediment surrounds the large double door of the brick building’s striking facade. Tall, arched windows open through each of the four elevations, rusticated quoins of plaster trim each of the building’s corners, and the gable ends terminate in the clipped profile of a jerkinhead roof. Dedicated in 1719 but begun some years before, St. James, Goose Creek, is the most well-preserved early church in South Carolina, and...

      (pp. 279-308)

      Against a field of deep black, the gilt and oversized Roman numerals of the steeple clock of St. Michael’s blaze forth in the bright light of the Carolina sun (FIG. 8.1). Easily visible from the street below, the numbers ring the six-foot dial cheek by jowl without any visible frame. Wound daily by the sexton, the clock rang the hour on the largest of the steeple bells and the quarter hours with a peal of four smaller bells “as the Royal Exchange in London.”¹ The clock of St. Michael’s was an improvement over that of St. Philip’s, which still rang...

    • Chapter 9 PULPITS, PEWS, AND POWER
      (pp. 309-330)

      In the summer of 1744, the vestry of St. John’s, Colleton, included in the pages of their minutes a plan of their newly completed church (FIGS. 9.1 and 9.2). The nave of the church was organized around three aisles, two extending from the doors on the western elevation and terminating in a cross aisle that spans between doors on the northern and southern elevations. Filling the floor of the church in and around these aisles and the chancel aisle are twenty-seven pews, all of approximately the same size. The sense of uniformity among the pews was reinforced by the fact...

  8. PART IV Revolutionary Changes to Material Religion

    • Chapter 10 BUILDING THE “HOLY CITY”
      (pp. 333-364)

      A few weeks before Easter in 1789, the vestry of St. John’s, Colleton County, convened at their parish church (FIG. 10.1). Upon inspection, they found the church “in a most deplorable situation, indeed not a door, window shutter, or pew to be seen, a large part of the floor missing, the pavement of the aisles in many places destroyed, and in short no one part but indicated the necessity of some repairs.”¹ The vestry of St. John’s was not alone. Although the Revolutionary War had left the two city churches with only minor damage, most of the rural parish churches...

    (pp. 365-368)

    The Beauty of Holinessreads the architecture and decorative arts of Anglicanism in colonial South Carolina as a material record of the complexities of eighteenth-century religious practice and belief. Between the fervency of seventeenth-century doctrinal rhetoric and the rising tide of Enlightenment thought and sentimentality, eighteenth-century Anglicanism knew the tension between constancy and change. Theological contemplation, social engagement, and political conflict—South Carolina’s Anglicans negotiated these circumstances in material ways. Church ceilings and pew plans, gravestone iconography and mourning rings, and silver chalices and steeple clocks; Anglicans enlisted these objects and others to give form to belief and to shape...

    (pp. 369-386)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 387-446)
    (pp. 447-474)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 475-483)