New Gothic Revival Church in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina

After eight years of planning, design, and construction the beautiful new church of St. Clare of Assisi on Daniel Island (Charleston, South Carolina) has been dedicated. Construction took three years and two months. With great solemnity it was consecrated on April 22 in a liturgy celebrated by the new bishop of Charleston, the Most Rev. Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS.

Washington D.C. based architects Franck & Lohsen are responsible for the design and they worked with a local company, Trident Construction, and Hord Architects of Tennessee. Evergreene Architectural Arts helped design interior elements. The cross came from Demetz Art Studio in Italy. The bells came from Paccard in Annecy, France. 

Visitors who pass through the main entrance are greeted with beautiful words carved above the entrance portal: "LOVE GOD. SERVE GOD." This is a quote taken from St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), the church's patroness.  

This new church is a triumph and yet another example of centrifugal forces striving in many places to restore the sacred - a return to a Catholic synthesis - in the realm of ecclesiastical architecture. While the church is new, it also has many vintage elements incorporated inside, making it a well-spring of art that reaches back over 100 years. Hearty congratulations to this wonderful new community, the founding pastor, Fr. H. Gregory West, and all the fortunate parishioners. Generations will worship here and benefit from the great beauty that is on display for the greater honor and glory of God.  

The new church was inspired by old-world design and is a major architectural achievement, complete with the aspiration of a Gothic spire. The structure is the second largest new church in the state and the talk of the town throughout South Carolina. The design is a conglomeration of styles and influences, a pastiche in the general footprint of the Neo-Gothic. The buff colored exterior boasts limestone highlights. In addition, there will be a covered cloister to connect the new church with two other new buildings that are in the design process. All three buildings will create an enclosed cloister courtyard. 

The church is already a recognized city landmark, with its 180 ft spire and iconic twin towers. In addition, it has a 26-bell carillon from France in the spire that gives glory to God, indicating the hours of the day from 6:55 am until 5:55 pm. At 11:55 am the bells ring to mark the Angelus/Regina Caeli. This is the second largest bell installation in the Charleston area. 

The inspiration for the rose window design came from the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy. Meanwhile, the towers were influenced by Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island, and the steeple was influenced by St. Matthew's on King Street in Charleston. 

The structure, which broke ground in 2020, is a big asset to the growing Catholic population, with  a 21,000 SF floor plan for some 3,000 plus parishioners. The interior holds 820. The church is in an ideal location, adjacent to a park and a Catholic high school. 

The floor mosaics were designed by a parishioner, Catherine August, who is an interior designer and a member of the parish Design and Build Team. With a group of volunteers, they crafted the mosaics over a three year period.

The ambo, pews, and other wood liturgical furnishings were manufactured by Ratigan Schottler of Beatrice, Nebraska, based on designs submitted by the parish. The organ and cases with pipes were custom built by R. A. Colby of Johnson City, Tennessee.

The lovely Gothic interior includes some Renaissance elements such as a blue night sky motif and golden stenciling in the sanctuary area. These were painted on canvas and attached to the walls in marouflage technique, created from parish design input by the artists of Evergreene in New York. 

Certain antique items of immense architectural merit were repurposed from the main chapel of a closed convent in Millvale, Pennsylvania, the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities at Mount Alvernia, located in a suburb of Pittsburgh. That convent chapel was built in 1897. Some of the sisters came for the dedication of the new church, seen in the photo below.  

The items from the sisters include an exquisite Neo-Gothic altar fashioned in the marble studios of Carrara, Italy. Other items include side altar statues of Mary and Joseph, the Stations of the Cross that now adorn the walls, and twelve stunning antique stained-glass windows that came from the Bavarian Art Institute of Munich; creations by the stained-glass master Franz Mayer. The windows depict various saints, including canonized Franciscans.  

The sanctuary is crowned with a rood cross inspired by the original cross of San Damiano, a famous crucifix in Assisi, Italy. It is a familiar sight for anyone who has been to Assisi or visited other churches in Umbria or Franciscan churches around the world. This beautiful copy of the original San Damiano cross was created by Demetz Studios in Ortisei, Italy. The original, a masterpiece of priceless value, spoke to Saint Francis and hangs in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy.

The capital campaign to raise funds for the $25 million project has been successful. Donations are still welcome. The parish is between capital campaigns and those who wish to contribute to the building fund may give here

We conclude by saying that in the Catholic tradition, architects and designers are motivated by a perceived relationship between the finished church and the heavenly city. Beautiful architecture like this symbolizes heaven. It embodies the synthesis of God and man, the supernatural and nature, vertical and horizontal movements, Christianity and humanism. The world of man with nature and art is thus a true mirror of God and the spiritual order.


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