City’s French connection

The Rev. Philip Bryant uncovered a tombstone Thursday that was refurbished with grant money provided by the French Heritage Society to the French Huguenot Church for restoration of its cemetery.

As workers toiled away Thursday on the exterior restoration of the French Huguenot Church, a crowd inside listened as speakers told of the building’s place in Charleston and French history.

The church, at the corner of Church and Queen streets, has survived fire, earthquakes, hurricanes, war and hard financial times, yet “It’s still standing and it’s beautiful,” said Elizabeth F. Stribling, chairwoman of the French Heritage Society.

Stribling and other society members from across the nation are in Charleston through Sunday learning about the area’s French connections on a tour called “Charleston: French Traces Past & Present.”

One of their first stops was the church, which is undergoing a $1 million restoration project to return it to its original state, said the Rev. Philip Bryant, who has been its leader for about 30 years.

The church was designed by architect Edward Brickell White in 1845. Over the years it has at times been closed or used as a museum.

“I’ve seen this church grow from about 15 people to where it’s pretty well full each Sunday,” Bryant said. It still has one French service annually in honor of the Promulgation of the Edict of Nantes.

As part of the program, Stribling gave the church a plaque on behalf of the society to commemorate a grant from the society to restore historic monuments in the church’s cemetery and to inaugurate its anticipated future involvement.

“We’ve got a lot of work that has been done and a lot of work that’s going to go forward,” said Jim McNab, treasurer of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina. “We decided last year that there was enough damage and enough things that needed to be done to undertake a full-blown restoration to take this church back to the way it looked in 1845, and that’s what we are in the process of doing.”

The nonprofit society provides grants for historic preservation projects in France and to American buildings with French heritage, said Executive Director Greg Joye.

It has provided more than 500 of the matching grants.

While in Charleston, society members also will visit Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or