Cathedral to get steeple

CHARLESTON — The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist has a new steeple in its future.
Plans for the new steeple were approved by Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review at its Dec. 12 meeting.  

The steeple is part of a $7 million long-term renovation project, which started with restoration of the Cathedral’s more than 100 stained glass windows, completed in September. Damaged brownstone on the exterior walls also needs to be restored.

“We’re very pleased [the steeple plan] was so well received by everybody,” said Charleston architect Glenn Keyes, whose firm is handling the renovation and designed the steeple.

“We really tried to get out as much information as we could to parishioners and to the public because so many people are interested in what goes on downtown,” he said.

The steeple’s addition will mark the first time the Cathedral in Charleston has had a steeple since 1861. A fire destroyed the original Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar that year. Rebuilding the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist started in 1865 on the footprint of the original and was completed in 1907.

Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, pastor of the Cathedral, said he was overjoyed that the steeple has been approved.

“It was a great pleasure to hear the good news from the Board of Architectural Review and from neighbors,” he wrote in an e-mail response to The Miscellany. “It took from 1865 to this year 2007 to see the great leap ahead … how exciting for us all to see the fulfillment of dreams in the beauty of the structure that stands as a monument built to honor the glory of God.”

The design for the steeple is in line with the overall theme and design of the rest of the structure. Plans call for an arched base and a 40-foot spire made of steel covered by copper. The steeple will increase the Cathedral’s height from 86 to 167 feet, Keyes said.

He said work on the steeple would coincide with restoration of the brownstone on the Cathedral’s exterior. The original brownstone has been damaged over the years by moisture.

“Our goal is to start work on the brownstone and steeple together sometime around mid-year 2008,” Keyes said. “The way things look now we’d probably be starting on the steeple sometime in the fall.”

Keyes said copper was selected for the steeple both for aesthetic reasons and ease of maintenance.
“We wanted to use materials that were typical for a building of this importance, but also something that has the least amount of maintenance requirements,” he said. “Something that is 167 feet in the air is very hard to maintain, so we didn’t want something that had to be painted. That’s why we’re using copper.”

Bids for the steeple and brownstone work will go out in January. He said his firm has spoken to a company in Canada that specializes in copper-clad structures, but no specific bids have been approved. A company in Connecticut will supply the brownstone for the renovation, but bids will be taken for the actual stonework.

Hightower Construction of Charleston will complete general construction for the project.