In Emily’s Vow, there are a couple of scenes that take place within the walls of St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve traversed the streets of Charleston, following the wonderful walking tour of the historic buildings from the 18th century. I love the city and being among the beautiful buildings and gardens. But I needed to know what the inside of the church looked like in 1782 versus what it looks like today. Thank goodness George W. Williams wrote and published a bicentennial account of the history of the church, complete with descriptions and, even better, pictures. (I had actually stumbled upon this wealth of information when trying to determine the fate of the famous bells of the church, but that’s another story!)
For my purposes, I wanted to have a visual of what Emily would be looking at while the service was being conducted. What would she ignore versus think about to pass the time, given that she didn’t really want to be listening to the rector. Mr. Williams helped me a great deal!
I’ll touch on the history of the interior of the church, for your information, and then I’ll share the description I used in the book, so you can see how I worked in the details from Emily’s perspective.
According to Mr. Williams, the pulpit and tester, along with the reading desk, all remain in the same place as the original, though some damage was sustained by the pulpit during the American Civil War. A staircase gave access to the pulpit, three steps led up to the clerk’s desk from the clergy pew, and the clerk could get to his desk from the aisle.
From St. Michael’s, Charleston, 1751-1951:
“The location of the group is also of significance. As Sir Christopher Wren had indicated, Anglican churches were built to serve as ‘auditories.’ The reading desk and the pulpit should then be placed in the position from which the minister could best be heard by the entire congregation. He must stand high above the heads of his flock in order to overcome the height of the square pews.”
What is fascinating to me is the detailed decoration gracing the exterior of the furniture as well as the lovely woods employed in the design. Williams lists the carved decorations, including “Lawrel Leaves,” “5 Leaved Grass in the Cornish,” “Swelling Torus cut with Foliage Flowers,” and my personal favorite, “1 Pine Apple on the top of the pulpit.” For those who may not be aware, the pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality. In fact, the hospitality industry today awards a trophy featuring a pineapple.
Again from Williams:
“The two inlays have been miraculously preserved. The panel of the west face is inlaid with several woods. Against a background of quarter-sawed oak, rays of long-leaf pine and walnut stream from a circle of mahogany. The cross and the I H S are of white pine; the symbolic device below adds, in an ebony star of David, a triangle of ivory. The ceiling of the pulpit, the sounding board proper, is also inlaid. On a mahogany field alternating diamonds of long-leaf pine and walnut form a large star in the center of which smaller diamonds of the same woods describe a smaller star, counter-colored. The corners of the hexagon are touched with rays of these woods rising from arcs of long-leaf pine.”
With that detailed description in mind, let’s look at how Emily viewed the pulpit in Emily’s Vow:
The final strains of the hymn died away as the rector climbed the stairs to the elevated pulpit to deliver his sermon. The richly carved furniture boasted inlaid woods ranging from pine to oak to mahogany, and was a work of art unbefitting its occupant, to her mind. His position, towering high above the congregation’s heads, not only ensured everyone could hear his message, but also forced her to look up at him until her neck hurt. Emily chastised herself for detesting this portion of the service, but to no avail.
Emily continues to survey her surroundings, taking in the nave and chancel and missing the patriotic preacher who had been ousted by a loyalist one. Thus, her desire to leave the church. At any rate, what do you think? Do you like the way I wove in the details to provide a visual? Would you be interested in hearing about the chancel and nave and how Emily views them as well? I love to hear from my readers, so please leave a brief comment or question and I’ll be happy to respond.
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