Sacred Spaces

"South Carolina's Sacred Spaces: Seventy Churches and Temples that helped Shape the State’s History and Culture," by Bill Fitzpatrick

SOUTH CAROLINA'S SACRED SPACES: Seventy Churches and Temples that helped Shape the State’s History and Culture. By Bill Fitzpatrick. Bellingham & Bern. 248 pages. $70.

Bill Fitzpatrick’s "South Carolina's Sacred Spaces" is the product of his photographic sojourn throughout the state of South Carolina. Over the most part of a decade, Fitzpatrick drove tens of thousands of miles to record sacred places. Not content with creating outstanding photos of both "high style" and "vernacular" religious structures, he includes stories and recounts the efforts of deacons, elders, congregants and caretakers of the state’s often threatened sacred places.

This is no dry survey. The photographs and oral histories convey Fitzpatrick's enthusiasm for these places drenched in significance for their respective communities. He found many people whose memories infuse these places with meaning today. Despite the forces of deterioration, protective proclivities have defied the odds: Dedicated people have kept them standing. The echoes of weddings, funerals, squabbles and spiritual epiphanies remain in the silenced aisles and pews of endangered, half-abandoned structures.

Poignant stories emerge. Bruce Littlejohn of Pacolet tells Fitzpatrick about how Mulberry Methodist Church served generations: “This church is very important both to my family and to the community. Helps remind us of the past.”

William and Stephen Bairefoot, who care for Mount Olivet Presbyterian Church in the Upstate, tell Fitzpatrick about how they were told to close the doors years ago because of dwindling attendance but decided to maintain the property on their own. “This church used to be important!” they said in unison.

Clarence and Kay Gibbs curate Shiloh Methodist Church in Inman, last used for services in 1915 but maintained as a community gathering place. It provided shelter for soldiers during the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Paths on the 3-acre site included a very old Yamasee Indian trail that once ran from Florida to Ohio.

Davetta Greene, a proponent for interpreting and preserving St. James the Greater Catholic Mission, part of the isolated Catholic Hill community, recounts how the faith of the people and leadership of a former slave, Vincent de Paul Davis, helped keep the institution intact after the Civil War.

Fitzpatrick paraphrases the late South Carolina writer Pat Conroy: “In 'My Reading Life,' Conroy notes that South Carolina is a state of contained, unshared intimacies, a place of crosscurrents, passwords and secret handshakes, but it rewards the curiosity of both natives and strangers alike.”

Reviewer Ralph Muldrow teaches in the College of Charleston's Historic Preservation program.

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