Travels with Larry: Copper Steeples in “The Holy City”

Travels with Larry: Copper Steeples in “The Holy City”
13 Mar 2018


Situated squarely within the low country coastal areas of South Carolina, Charleston was one of the most important ports in Colonial America. The lack of elevation and the sandy soils lead to a community filled with relatively short structures, making church steeple lights visible as guides for mariners navigating to the port. In fact, the skyline is punctuated with steeples in every direction providing Charleston the nickname “The Holy City.” Below are just a few of Charleston’s pointy bits.

Circular Congregational Church

The Circular Congregational Church (pictured above) has an interesting history and equally unique appearance.  Portions of the materials from earlier structures were used to create the current building in the 1890s.  After about 100 years of dealing with periodic replacement of lesser lived materials, the congregation decided to replace the roof with something longer lasting. The copper standing seam roof was installed in the 1990s and is now beginning to show the early stages of a nice green patina.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church2This steeple view is from cemetery yard at Circular Church.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church has the oldest congregation in South Carolina.  The steeple was completed in 1850 and is one of only two to have officially served as a navigation beacon to help guide ships entering Charleston’s harbor.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was constructed in 1907 without the top quarter of its steeple due to a lack of funds.  Nearly 100 years later, the striking copper topped addition was added.  Local architect Glenn Keyes received a 2011 North American Copper in Architecture award for his design of the addition, which fits seamlessly with the earlier construction while adding to the Charleston skyline.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Emanuel)

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Emanuel)2

Copper Shingles adorn the steeple of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (Mother Emanuel). Founded in 1816, Mother Emanuel is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the Southern United States.

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church2

On the west side of Marion Square is St. Matthew’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was completed in 1872.  A 1965 fire destroyed the original steeple. Additionally, it appears that the copper flat seam shingles are even newer.

Citadel Square Baptist Church

Citadel Square Baptist Church

Across Marion Square is Citadel Square Baptist Church, the fourth Baptist Church established in Charleston in 1854.  Hurricane Hugo blew the steeple off the church in 1989, so the green patina now appearing on the copper standing seam panels represents approximately 28 years weathering in this climate.



  1. Beautiful steeples, I see why the architect won an award for his work on St. John Cathedral, not to mention the workmanship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *