Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Garden Of St. John's Church, Savannah, GA

St. John's Church, Savannah, GA
About St. John's Church in Savannah, GA, Linton Weeks wrote, "St. John's Church is like a beautiful plant in the garden of downtown Savannah. ...The seed was planted beneath the earth, in firm, fertile soil. The first service of St. John's was held in the basement of Christ Church".

Christ Church Anglican was the first house of worship in Georgia, founded in 1733. That was long before the Protestant Episcopal Church (TEC) existed.

"Slowly, surely, the plant spiralled upwards, striving for the sunlight and the heavens. Gardeners tended the plant. They watered it, fertilized it, nurtured it, and then, when the plant's roots were large and strong, the garden-tenders transplanted the church into a larger, lovelier garden - Madison Square."

That's where you'll still find it. Though the story of St. John's Church is much richer, a visit to its garden and nearby Madison Square provides a glimpse of its beauty.

St. John's was planted in 1840, but not at its present site. Planning for a larger sanctuary began in 1850. The cornerstone of the Gothic-style church, designed by architect C. N. Otis of Buffalo, NY, was laid in 1852. The consecration sermon, delivered by Bishop Stephen Elliott, was delivered on May 7, 1853.

The Parish House, also known as the Green-Meldrim Home, is "one of the most elegant and luxurious homes in Savannah." Built concurrently with St. John's, it was for many years a private residence.

Charles Green, its first owner, was born 1807, a native of Halesowen, Shropshire, England. It's said that he arrived in Savannah at age 26 with two dollars in his pocket, and gave one dollar to a beggar on the street as he disembarked. He went to work right away for Andrew Low and Company, cotton merchants. Green and Low were related by marriage. He must have been very savvy, for he soon became a partner in the firm.
The Green-Meldrim Home was also designed in the Gothic Revival style, but by architect John S. Norris, a resident of Savannah originally from New York. St. John's Church and Charles Green's home were both completed about the same time. Constructed of brick, stucco and stone, the residence featured elegant "sculptured tracery of cast iron, bays and oriel windows, ...a novel and graceful appearance." It was compared favorably "on a par with the mansions of New York's Fifth Avenue."

When the War for Southern Independence broke out in 1861, Charles Green, his sister Mrs. John Low, and Andrew Low were in Europe. Upon their return via Canada, Green and his sister were arrested in Detroit, and Low in Cincinnati on obvious false charges as agents for the Confederacy. They were imprisoned separately. All were released after about three months, and returned to Savannah.

Charles Green had another brush with Yankees in 1864 when General William T. Sherman took Savannah with his invasive species to set up his headquarters in Green's home. Though he sent his family packing out of Savannah, Green remained in the home with his man servant to watch over his house, cultivating his unwelcome relationship with Sherman. Again, Green's quickness and generosity paid off, for his home and furnishings, food and drink were left unmolested. Some speculated that Green's hospitality had a gentling effect on W.T. Sherman while that rascal headquartered in Savannah.

From 1892 to 1943, the house belonged to the family of Judge Peter Meldrim. When it was put up for sale, the Rev. Mr. Ernest Risley, rector of St. John's, convinced his congregation that it could be a wonderful rectory and parish house. The house might have been razed if sold to others. The congregation bought and  saved it. The city rejoiced.

The street that once separated them, Macon Street, has been blocked. The space is now part of a garden and arched passageway that joins them. Where traffic once passed, a pleasant lawn, fish fountain and pool calm the spirit. The effect is not unlike a cloister.

The Rectory Garden is at the southwest corner of the Parish House, filling what was once a service area. It provides a quiet place for meditation and reflection for the rector and guests.

Box Garden, Green-Meldrim Home
The Box Garden, edged with antique glazed terracotta tiles, is on the east side of the Parish House facing Madison Square. Cooling shade is amply provided by the live oaks which characterize Savannah. The Box Garden is surrounded with intricate cast iron tracery for which The Green-Meldrim Home is justly famous.

Mention must be made of Madison Square, for it, St. John's Church and the Green-Meldrim Home seem unified in spirit. As Linton Weeks observed, the three are elements of the larger, lovelier garden.

Every Savannahian knows, and visitors will soon learn, that the names of the city's squares and the monuments in them commemorate different people and events. Madison Square, for example, celebrates the memory of James Madison, Jr., fourth President of the United States. Its monument commemorates the heroic sacrifice of Sgt. William Jasper who was mortally wounded in 1779 during the American assault on nearby British troops. A plaque and series of reliefs on the cenotaph tells the tragic tale of the conflict and Jasper's death. Other historical markers tell more about Madison Square and another local hero, the Count d'Estaing, fully known as Jean-Baptiste-Charles-Henri-Hector, comte d’Estaing, marquis de Saillans.


It's fitting that Weeks wrote of St. John's Church as "a beautiful plant in the garden of downtown Savannah." To my knowledge, no church in Savannah's historic district has a larger or lovelier garden, if they have gardens at all.

I'm reminded of the carols, "King Jesus Hath A Garden", "Christ Hath A Garden" and "Jesus Christ The Apple Tree" and the imagery they represent. St. John's Church Savannah is a testimony to the faithful who have carefully tended and defended Christ's garden in Savannah, Georgia.


Return to goGardenNow.com.

No comments: