There is something so comforting about being in a Southern town on a Sunday morning and seeing everyone dressed in their Sunday best and the only place anyone can be found is at church. Growing up in a small, Southern town, I looked forward to Sundays as a time to reconnect and restart as well as a time to reflect on what was going on in my life. I knew the smiling faces and the powerful message I was going to hear would do just that and upon seeing these strong, magestic structures opening up their doors and swallowing impecably dressed women, men and children, my whole body relaxed.
These structures still have that same effect on me. As I was home this summer for an extended period of visitation with my family and friends, I found myself recalling a time when Sunday was special and while sitting in my hometown church, Trinity Episcopal Church, I was reflective. This church has held so many of my special times in its sacred walls: my weekly gathering place as a child-teen, my brother's baptisms, many a wedding of family and friends, my own wedding, my daughter's baptism and my mother's funeral.
But there is also something so special about Trinity and many other churches found in the South, they are magestic and beautifully built. They were built when the church was the heart of town life and symbol of the wealth and power of the parrish. These buildings were designed and constructed by the best of their time and many a millionairre made sure the interiors were outfitted with elegant organs, lavish woodworking, exquisit alters and stained glass windows. The integrity of these buildings still stands today.
Here are some of my favorite from my hometown and surrounding areas.
Trinity Episcopal Church in Natchez, MS
Trinity Episcopal Church is the oldest church building in Natchez, and the oldest existing Episcopal church building in Mississippi.
Trinity Church, Natchez, was formed in 1822. The lot, on which present-day Trinity Church stands, was purchased in April 1822 for $1500. The architect for the building was John Munce and the master builder was George Williams. The first services, in the present building, were held in 1823. Services have been held at Trinity Church ever since.
In 1838, the architectural firm of Breedon & Reynolds was engaged to remodel the building. The dome was removed, the roofline reduced, a portico was added to the front, and stucco was applied to the exterior. A second organ was purchased from Hall & Labash of NY was installed in 1851. Electricity was first used in the church in 1900. http://www.trinitynatchez.org/the-trinity-story/
Trinity Episcopal Church's interior includes two rare art-glass windows designed and installed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Grace Church in St. Francisville, LA
A St. Francisville landmark, the church and cemetery are shaded by a magnificent grove of oaks.
"A beautiful brick structure in the charming St. Francisville Historic District, Grace Church is the second oldest Episcopal church in Louisiana. With many of the prosperous merchants and plantation owners of the area listed on its membership roll, the new church was beautifully designed and carefully constructed. Completed in 1860, the building was only one year old when Louisiana joined the other Southern states in seceding from the Union. The Civil War followed." source
St. Mary Basilica in Natchez, MS
Recognized as an architectural masterpiece among Catholic churches in the south, St. Mary Basilica began construction on the church in 1841 as the Cathedral of the newly established Diocese of Natchez. The cornerstone of the church was laid on February 24, 1842. It was dedicated on December 25, 1843. The church took 40 years to be completed. It was consecrated on September 19, 1886.
Twelve of its beautiful stained glass windows, by Tyroler Glassmalerie, Innsbruch, Austria were installed between 1884–1893, and four, by Emil Frei, St Louis, Missouri, were installed in 1961. The three marble altars, communion rail, Episcopal chair, and screens are in Carrara marble, fashioned in Italy in Gothic style for St. Mary. Interior photo credit
First Presbyterian Church in Natchez, MS
The first Presbyterian house of worship in Natchez was completed on a high hill on the present site in 1815. Permission to conduct a lottery to raise funds was granted by the Legislature but was not resorted to. A new and much larger church was erected in 1828-29, at which time the hill was graded to the present level. This forms essentially the present sanctuary. The clock in the church belfry was the official town clock in the 1830s, the city government paying for its upkeep. That clock was destroyed in the 1840 tornado in Natchez and the present belfry was built to house a new clock. source
As you can see, these structures are magestically built and demonstrate a time and place when construction of public buildings was a task that produced some of the most cherished architecture in the world.