After well over a century-long wait, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, SC, now has contributed a beautiful, gleaming addition to the Holy City skyline. The artisans at Copper Exclusive were largely responsible for the copper craftsmanship
on this historic project and documented their work progress from concept to completion on a case-study blog.
Following 33 years of sacrifice and hard work, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (then called Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar) was consecrated in 1854. A short seven years later, on December 11, 1861, a devastating fire destroyed much of Charleston.
The Cathedral was one of the many buildings that fell victim to this tragedy. Not a piece was salvageable. The parishioners of the Church were broken-hearted, but remained resolute that one day, they would restore their beloved Cathedral. But that
wasn’t going to be easy.
At the time, much of the South lay in economic ruin having fallen to the ravages of Civil War. Despite these hardships, funds were raised and a new cornerstone was placed in 1890. A Gothic Revival style spire with bell tower was always planned for, but
never realized. After progress on the building was made, the Great Depression loomed, then a series of world wars and conflicts. But the dream of a beautiful spire was always there.
Finally on March 8, 2010, 120 years after the placement of the cornerstone for the new Cathedral, that dream came true.
After saving and sacrificing for so many years, the Church was understandably anxious that the details on their spire would be made to last beautifully for hundreds of years. The European master artisans of Copper Exclusive were selected from a long list
of skilled applicants to create the intricate archways, finials and golden cross that now adorn the top of the Cathedral.
“I have spent my life dedicated to this kind of work,” Erno Ovari, president of Copper Exclusive relates. “Back in Europe I worked almost exclusively on castles and cathedrals. In Europe, being certified in restoration and reconstruction
is not just something you can apply for. You must be invited by a very strict committee. You catch their attention by your education and your master skill. And no one will let you within ten feet of any historic building unless you possess the correct
certifications. Our work at Copper Exclusive is crafted to be beautiful, artistic and permanent.”
The most pronounced feature on the spire is the golden cross at the top. The cross is over 20 feet high and required enough gold to cover over 200 square feet of surface area. The four copper finials at the apex of each archway are designed to mirror
the originals carved in brownstone.
“We created this case-study to document this historical work and for the enjoyment of those who have interest in this kind of thing,” says Ovari. “It’s not often projects like this come up in the United States so it was really
important to document our work here.”
Indeed we don’t often hear of stories of restoration projects this dramatic, but what else would you expect to come out of historic Charleston? Dum Spiro Spero. “While I breathe, I hope.” It’s the state motto of South Carolina.