By Kelly Wise Valdes
On a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, I was fortunate enough to visit the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This structure is one of the most awe-inspiring buildings in all of historic Savannah as well as one of the most popular tourist attractions. Its beautiful French Gothic architecture certainly makes it one of the most amazing cathedrals in the south and it’s tall spires mark this cathedral as one of the tallest structures in Savannah.
We decided to embark on a historic tour where we learned that the current structure and site of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built in 1873 and dedicated in 1876. The spires were added in 1896. Previous to the current building, there were two other churches for the congregation, but because the cathedral became the “Mother Church” for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Savannah, it outgrew its previous locations.
On Sunday evening, February 6, 1898, the Cathedral was almost destroyed by a fire. Savannah has had a number of deadly and very destructive fires throughout its history that totally destroyed many of the buildings of that time period.
Fortunately, the Cathedral was partially spared in this fire. The entire interior of the Cathedral was lost and only the outside walls and the two spires survived the fire. The Cathedral was rebuilt with the same intricacy and detail as it had been before the fire.
The interior of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is one of the most impressive interiors of any building in Savannah. The stained glass windows, executed by the Innsbruck Glassmakers in the Austrian Tyrol, were installed in the Cathedral around 1904. These numerous stained glass windows include breathtaking biblical scenes. Christopher Murphy, a Savannah artist, was hired to direct the painting of the murals that are displayed throughout the inside of the Cathedral.
If you only have a short time in Savannah, make sure that you make your way over to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This iconic Cathedral remains in the top-ten historic sites to visit in the United States and is open for self-guided tours on Monday-Saturday from 9–11:30 a.m. and from 1– 5 p.m. It’s only a short .3 mile (7 minute walk) to Chippewa Square, where the famous park bench scene was filmed for the movie Forrest Gump.
For more information, visit www.savannahcathedral.org.