Our History

A Brief History of The Church of The Holy Cross

The present Church, built in 1850-1852, issituated on the site of a former building, the Episcopal Church of Claremont. Prior to that, the Legislature approved a Chapel of Ease in 1770 so that people from the Sumter District (High Hills Area) would not have so far to travel, since Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church of Pinewood was the nearest church. A Chapel of Ease was built at a location about 10 miles south of the present Church of the Holy Cross, near the now extinct town of Manchester.

The congregation of the Chapel of Ease applied for a charter, and under an Act of the Legislature in 1788 the Episcopal Church of Claremont was incorporated. The church building was constructed of wood and was 37’x15’x17’. It was erected on land given by General Thomas Sumter at the present location.

To raise money to pay for the building, the pews were valued by the vestry according to their location in the church, and sold to the highest bidder. Each purchaser was given a deed.

In 1849, the congregation decided to build a new church, and its old charter was amended to bear the name, The Church of the Holy Cross. Dr. Anderson, Chairman of the Building Committee, persuaded the congregation that they would have a bigger church for the money spent if they made use of the Pise’ de Terre (rammed earth), a method he had used in remodeling his own home across the road from the present church.

The Church of the Holy Cross is an exceptionally beautiful example of Victorian High Gothic Revival Style, both in its architectural design and its furnishings. The oak leaf frieze at the top of the inside walls is unusual. The lavabo, or piscina, in the chancel is also rare in episcopal churches. The lavabo, credance table, and the sedilia are all of wood painted to look like stone. Minton tiles from England formed the five designed areas in the chancel floor.

Notable are the east and west stained glass windows, made in Bavaria after the designs of French architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. He also designed a set of windows depicting Christ and his Apostles for the Pope’s summer residence and three of these have been adapted for the Chancel windows. The transept windows are modern. The north one is dedicated to parish members who served in the Armed Forces. The south window, over the choir loft, depicts angel musicians. Memorial windows in the nave are designed to conform to the name of the church, different versions of the cross with the symbolic shields of the Apostles. The window in the bell tower depicts Saint Christopher.

The organ was constructed by a renowned, 19th century organ maker, Henry Erben. It is one of the few Erben organs in existence in the United States. It was installed in the church in 1851 and has been in constant use, with the exception of a few months in 1983 when it was removed for repairs. The bellows was electrified but the hand pump is still operative.

The bell in the church tower was installed in 1956. It was cast in Holland and is one of the few “named bells” in the country. It was given in honor of Mary Virginia Saunders White, her name Mary Virginia is cast into the metal of the bell. The “twin” bell to this one is located in the National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C.

There are many quaint tombs in the churchyard, probably the most interesting being that of Joel R. Poinsett, statesman, diplomat, scientist, and botanist, who died in 1851. He introduced the Poinsettia to the United States.

The Church of the Holy Cross was declared a National Landmark in 1978 and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The Church of the Holy Cross has weathered earthquake, tornado, and hurricane damage. However, in the year 2001 it was discovered that damage from termite infestation had ravaged the building. Plans for the repairs to the church building and furnishings are complete and restoration has begun.

The Church of the Holy Cross is, indeed, a National Treasure. Generations of students, residents, and tourists have benefited from touring the church and its grounds that have been open for worship for 150 years.

Reaching Sumter with the Transforming Love of Jesus Christ