Savannah's Top Religious Sights (Self Guided), Savannah

Remarkable and conspicuous Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Unitarian and Methodist Churches dot the cityscape of Savannah and are interesting places to visit. You may even have the chance to take part in parish services that are held weekly. Don't miss the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful architecture of Savannah's religious buildings and the peace that a church service may provide you!
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Savannah's Top Religious Sights Map

Guide Name: Savannah's Top Religious Sights
Guide Location: USA » Savannah (See other walking tours in Savannah)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: hollyg
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
  • Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church
  • Congregation Mickve Israel
  • St. John's Episcopal Church
  • First Baptist Church
  • Independent Presbyterian Church
  • Ascension Lutheran Church
  • Christ Church
  • First African Baptist Church
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

1) Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (must see)

In the early days of America, Roman Catholics were prohibited from settling in the South, out of fear that they would become more loyal to the Spanish southern colonies, and move away from the English northern colonies. As a result, Savannah had no Catholic church until 1799, when French migrants from Haiti who were fleeing the French Revolution established their first. In 1873, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built and completed with the addition of the majestic twin spires in 1896, when the brick structure also received a coating of stucco and whitewash.

The Cathedral has several notable artistic and architectural features. These include the Great Rose Window, a Gothic quatrefoil with St. Cecilia in the center, while the windows radiating from the center contain figures playing musical instruments. The Original Window of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the few to survive the great fire that ravaged Savannah in 1898. The Transept Windows feature the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven surrounded by angels and saints, reminiscent of Murillo's painting of the Immaculate Conception. Lastly, the church houses several murals dating back to 1912, depicting saints and other religious figures with encoded symbols indicating their lives and deaths.

Why You Should Visit:
Lovely experience from an artistic point of view. Many locals refer to the Cathedral as "America's Sistine Chapel"; amazing stained glass work, ceiling paintings, and altar.
The exterior French Gothic architecture is a free 'trip' to Europe; you will be most impressed if you have not traveled extensively outside of the U.S.

Take time to sit with the docent and listen to his tour of the building – you'll be glad you did.
The donation box as you exit is unique, so be sure to drop in a few bills and turn the handle.

Mon-Sat: 9–11:45am / 12:45–5pm
Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church

2) Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church

Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church has the distinction of being Savannah's first Methodist church. It was originally established in 1807, and situated at the corner of Lincoln and Oglethorpe until members of the congregation purchased a new space for it on Telfair square. Here, they built Trinity church. When Wesley Chapel closed, the two congregations combined into Trinity Church.

As the congregation grew, they made plans for a new building. They completed the first phase of construction for the current Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in 1878, but didn't finish until 1890. This was intended to be a monument to two primary Methodist figures, John and Charles Wesley.

The building itself is adorned with stained glass memorial windows, all dedicated to historic Methodist figures. It is constructed in a Gothic architectural style, with tall spires, a 43 foot ceiling, and a magnificent Gothic style organ built by the Noack Company. Fire has threatened the church twice, in both 1946 and 1953. Fortunately, some foresight made sure that the sanctuary was outfitted with a steel ceiling in 1902, so the church's interior was protected from the fire.

Today, Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church stands as a haven for all Methodists, and an enduring monument to key figures in Methodism's history.
Congregation Mickve Israel

3) Congregation Mickve Israel

Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States, as it was organized in 1735 by mostly Sephardic Jewish immigrants of Spanish-Portuguese extraction from London who arrived in the new colony in 1733. They consecrated their current synagogue, located on Monterey Square in historic Savannah, in 1878. It is a rare example of a Gothic-style synagogue. The synagogue building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Today, the synagogue is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism.
Sight description based on wikipedia
St. John's Episcopal Church

4) St. John's Episcopal Church

St. John's Episcopal Church was founded in 1841 in an attempt to increase the Episcopal presence in America. Its very first members were converts from the Anglican Christ Church, and its first rector was the notable Right Reverend Stephen Elliott.

The building itself was designed by architect Calvin Otis in a Neo Gothic style, and built between 1852 and 1853. It was created to have the look of a simple parish house, though it does have several very interesting features- a ships mast is in the center of the church's only spire, it has several magnificent stained glass windows, and its known for its melodious chimes.

St. John's stained glass windows are all circa the late 19th century. The church's north and south walls are bordered with a set of fourteen different windows depicting the life of Christ, including the Annunciation, Birth, Flight to Egypt, and Jesus in the Temple, to his Death and Resurrection.

St. John's Episcopal Church also owns the neighboring Green-Meldrim House. This historic house was occupied by General Sherman during the Civil War, and purchased after the war by Judge Peter Meldrim. Today, it serves as a historical building alongside the church itself, and is a setting for church activities like weddings and get-togethers.
First Baptist Church

5) First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church is a historic congregation with a church in downtown Savannah, Georgia. The congregation dates its establishment to 1800. The building is described as the oldest surviving church building in Savannah. The church was chartered in 1801 by Georgia governor Josiah Tattnall and the church building was first used in 1833. It was one of the few southern churches to remain open through the entirety of the American Civil War.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Independent Presbyterian Church

6) Independent Presbyterian Church

Savannah's Independent Presbyterian Church is called the mother church of all of Georgia's Presbyterians. The church, organized in 1755, was originally housed in a building on land granted by King George II. According to his plan, it would be a house of worship that followed the Doctrine of the Church of Scotland.

One of the church's original buildings was destroyed by fire in 1790, after being used as a magazine and stable by the British during the American Revolution. In 1800, its new building was damaged by a hurricane, and required extensive renovation. The church remained in this building until 1816, when the congregation had outgrown it. Architect John Holden Greene was hired to design and build the new, English restoration style building. It featured Federal windows, Corinthian columns, an elevated pulpit, and soft, natural light. Unfortunately, this original building doesn't survive today- it was completely destroyed by a fire in 1889, replaced with an exact replica of Greene's design by architect William G. Preston, and rededicated in 1891. Today, the church's interior reflects its historic design- some pieces of the interior, like the marble baptismal font, even managed to survive the fire and are still in use.
Ascension Lutheran Church

7) Ascension Lutheran Church

Ascension congregation is one of the oldest in Savannah, dating back to 1741. The building itself wasn't completed until 1878, after a string of other temporary churches were built on the current church's lot. It is a combination of Norman and Gothic styles, designed by architect George B. Clarke in 1875.

During the Civil War, the church was turned into a temporary hospital for sick and injured Civil War soldiers. Pew cushions became beds, and the pews themselves were splintered for firewood. This seriously damaged the interior of the church, but not irreparably so. Renovations began in 1875, and the church was fixed up, a second story was added, the Ascension window was installed, and the new building was dedicated by 1879.

The most notable feature of the current church is its magnificent Ascension Window, from which it gets its name. Flanking the Ascension window are stained glass windows featuring scenes taken from the life of Christ. The church also houses other notable works of art, including murals and other stained glass windows. The Luther Rose Window is a large rose window above the Luther window, a stained glass work featuring Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms. A marble altar features a mural of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.
Christ Church

8) Christ Church

Christ Church is one of Savannah's oldest churches. This Anglican Church calls itself the Mother Church of Georgia and has been in existence since 1733. It was founded with the creation of Georgia as a colony, and its location was spelled out by General James Oglethorpe in his plan for Savannah. Originally, services took place in the settlement's courthouse.

One of the church's rectors, John Wesley, served for a year between 1736 and 1737. Though he wasn't with the church long, he published a Collection of Psalms and Hymns, which was America's first English hymnal. He was succeeded by George Whitefield, who was instrumental in raising money for the colony's orphanage.

The church's interior is not the original. In 1895, a fire nearly gutted the church. Subsequent renovations gave the church the appearance it has today, including the Ascension windows, which serves as a memorial to the Right Reverend Stephen Elliott, first bishop of Georgia and first and only Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America during the southern secession of the Civil War.

Today, the church serves as a historical site and religious institution. Services are still given on Sundays, including an Evening Eucharist (6pm).
First African Baptist Church

9) First African Baptist Church (must see)

The First African Baptist Church of Savannah was a haven for runaway slaves during the turbulent years of the Civil War. The runaways were hidden in a four-foot high space between the basement and foundation below, with 'air holes' still visible in the basement floor – in lack of better knowledge, some might assume the holes are part of an artistic design.

During the 1960s, the church served as a base for the Civil Rights movement. Such is its glorious history, which dates to 1774 when George Liele – the first black man to be ordained by Baptists to preach in Georgia – began making missionary visits to plantations up and down the Savannah River. Formed by Liele in 1778, the First Colored Church of Savannah (renamed the First African Baptist Church in 1882) is the oldest continuously active African-American congregation in North America.

Located in Franklin Square, the present church was built by members of the congregation – among which many slaves who would make the bricks, lay the mortar, and carve the pews (still in use today) after laboring the fields all day. Note the beautiful stained glass windows depicting Liele and other early church leaders, installed in 1885. Today, the church houses a museum containing archives and memorabilia that date to the 18th century.

Why You Should Visit:
If you don't take the guided tour, you will be missing out on a huge core of Savannah's history. A tour here takes you through the main church, the upstairs, and the basement where you will learn about the role of the Underground Railroad.

Guided Tours:
Tue-Sat: 11am, 2pm, 4pm; Sun: 1pm

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