Founded in 1680, St. Philip’s is the oldest congregation in the United States south of Virginia. St. Philip’s has played a vital role in the spiritual, cultural, and civic life of the people of Charleston and this nation for over three centuries, and in its churchyard are buried leading patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Often referred to as the “Westminster Abbey of South Carolina,” St. Philip’s has continued to grow and thrive despite the ravages of war, enemy occupations, fires, earthquakes, pestilence, and famine.
Leading 18th century evangelist John Wesley preached at St. Philip’s three times, and famed revivalist George Whitfield preached at St. Philip’s, as well. The Rector at the time of the Revolution, the Rev. Dr. Robert Smith, was a leading evangelical scholar who also served as the founding President of the College of Charleston and the first Bishop of South Carolina. St. Philip’s established the first hospital and one of the earliest schools in the colony in the first decades of the 18th century as part of its efforts for the propagation of the Gospel. St. Philip’s had one of the earliest and largest Sunday Schools in the early 19th century with hundreds of children attending, leading Bishop Gadsden to construct the Chapel of the Good Shepherd to house it. Numerous clergy and bishops of the Church have come from the St. Philip’s congregation.
In the 17th century, the first edifice of St. Philip’s Church stood at the southeast corner of Broad and Meeting Streets, where St. Michael’s Church (Anglican) stands today. That original site quickly proved to be too small, and a new and much larger church was built at the current location in the Anglo-Palladian style, popularized by London’s St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, holding its first services on Easter Day 1723. As Edmund Burke wrote in 1777 when describing the new church, “St. Philip’s is spacious, and executed in a very handsome taste, exceeding everything of that kind which we have in America.” When that church suffered a major fire in 1835, the congregation was determined to rebuild quickly and was able to resume services in 1838; the congregation continues to worship in that building today.
The church is named for Philip, one of the 12 Apostles, who was born in Galilee and died a martyr in what is now Hierapolis, Turkey.