An excerpt from the book Southern Fried & Sanctified. Postage-free, signed copies available via the author website, click on title of the book to order and view the book’s photo gallery. All text and photographs copyrighted.
Much like New Orleans, Charleston is a walking town, and offers a complimentary trolley car that tours the downtown district. Another plus is the historic Francis Marion Hotel, conveniently located downtown with panoramic views of the city. The historic décor fits perfectly with your stay and everyone from the bellhops to the concierge are eager to please. Trolley guides are available featuring a map of churches, historic homes and museums .
Our first stop was the Circular Congregational Church, one of the oldest continuously worshipping congregations in the South. Located at the corner of Meeting and Queen Streets, worn headstones rise from the soil just beyond the black fencing that borders the sidewalk.
The church bears a striking resemblance to a medieval castle surrounded by its garden of tombstones and shaded by oak, cedar and palm trees. Stout squirrel scurry about, perching themselves on top of faded stones stained with years of wear. It’s a forever home for a faithful congregation, one that began in 1681, and the oldest burial ground in the city, with graves from the 18th century. The oldest is a brick grave structure from 1685 that holds the Simonds family on the south side of the property.
Weaving through this garden of souls, studying the intricate detail, the sweet aroma of blooming ligustrum and the damp air grows stronger with an encroaching storm. It is here inside this gothic graveyard that the dead continue their story. The funerary architecture brings to life the religious and artistic history of a young and struggling colony.
Slates of the Peronneau family offer a storyboard of death in colonial America, from the skull and crossbones to the skull with wings, then portrait busts from primitive to classical. According to the church’s website, the cemetery has endured many hardships including a re, earthquake, vandalism and even a cannonball from the British during Sunday services in 1780. Recently restored by the Historic Charleston Foundation, it is a stunning portrait of southern art.