Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 04, 2012

Charleston’s French Huguenot Church and Its Significance

One of the country’s prettiest Protestant churches began as a result of suffering. Though the Edict of Fontainebleau had not yet been passed --- it was not until 1685 that life for French Protestants would become unbearable --- there had already been a substantial amount of persecution by 1681. French immigrants made Charleston, South Carolina one of their places of refuge. Naturally, they formed their own church. This first church survived until 1796 and was lost in a fire.

The current church was built in 1845 and so the building itself has little connection with the Huguenots of the 17th century, yet the storied land on which it sits is full of spiritual importance. Also, the interior pays wonderful homage to the Huguenot founders and serves to captivate modern visitors. What is interesting about the French Huguenot Church of Charleston is that no other Protestant church in the country is actually called a “Huguenot Church” under its own jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, I cannot simply drive down to South Carolina (wouldn’t it be wonderful if, while armchair traveling, we could push a button and find ourselves at the destination we desire?) and so I decided to content myself with scouring the web for images of this beautiful Huguenot Church. The exterior is simple yet stunning, painted in white but with unique spires rising on each side of the roof from one end to the other. Large arched windows add character to the front entrance.

The church is even more beautiful inside. The Huguenots and their descendants had a knack for simple but beautiful design. Rich dark woods are everywhere, sometimes in the form of panels with medieval-style indents carved into the middle. The floors are wood, and the wooden pews, dark and of varied wood colors, close at the sides and appear quite old. The altar is flanked with two large tablets and there are also beautifully-decorated tablets on each side of the room. Though I know very little about architecture, I might describe the plaques as “Victorian Gothic revival” or something to that effect, perhaps reflecting the 17th century designs that would have been popular when a church was first built here. The altar has beautifully-carved wooden screens that call to mind the Anglican chapels one might find in “jolly olde England.”

There are many elements in the French Huguenot Church that give the illusion of being commonplace while having their own twist. For instance, the high arched windows are quite popular in churches of the era, but these have what appears to be dark-colored window blinds halfway up. The bottom parts of the windows have separate small shutters that are opened to let in more light. The church’s chandelier, done in an alternating “wagon wheel” design popular in Spanish mission churches, is quite lovely as well.

Over the doorway is a plethora of carved wooden screens, a beautiful balcony, and arched Gothic windows on the top level. I think I could say that the French Huguenot Church has a holy atmosphere just from looking at the pictures. Though I am Lutheran, I believe I would feel very comfortable visiting this simply-appointed yet quietly grand church. There is something about the Huguenot spirit --- calm, somber yet hopeful, steadfast and courageous, unshakably faithful --- that all Protestants, especially those of the “Reformation faiths,” should admire and imitate.

One of the focuses of this blog has always been to feature Protestant individuals and families whose lives and stories might otherwise be forgotten; random people buried in random cemeteries, random martyrs for the Reformation cause, random faithful individuals known for their devotion. Upon noting that the French Huguenot Church has a lovely old cemetery with stones dating to the 1700s and even some in the late 1600s, I decided to pick three random people buried at the church to learn about and study. These are: Elizabeth Bounetheau, born March 1753 and died November 09, 1834; Magdalen Brabant DeSaussure, born 1710 and died 1761; and Gabriel Manigault, born April 21, 1704 and died June 03, 1781. Many more people buried at the French Huguenot Church can be found at

I could find no information on Elizabeth Bounetheau other than the fact that she was eighty-one years old when she died. She seems to have disappeared into the pages of history. There are, however, a few other “Bounetheaus” in this cemetery, namely Henry born in 1797, James born in 1793, and a John and Peter whose dates are not known. Perhaps Peter or John was Elizabeth’s husband.

Magdalen Brabant DeSaussure was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the daughter of Dr. Daniel Brabant and Magdalen (or Madelaine) DeBourdeaux. In 1735 she married Henri DeSaussure in South Carolina. Henri, who is also buried at the French Huguenot Church, was born in 1709 in Lausanne and died in 1761. It makes one wonder why he and his wife might have died the same year. Was there an illness? An accident?

Gabriel Manigault was born in Charleston and was the son of Pierre Manigault and Judith Gitton. He married a woman with a decidedly un-French name, Anne Ashby, in 1730. Gabriel was a merchant and also a planter and was well known in Charleston. He and wife Anne had at least one son, Peter.

I really enjoyed virtually exploring the French Huguenot Church. If luck favors me, someday I will go and see it for myself.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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