Savannah is a city known for its history, culture and architecture. And nowhere is that on display more than in the historic Savannah churches and cathedrals found throughout the city. No other city in the country has such a collection of historically significant churches. Each church offers a glimpse into Savannah’s past — and some of the most remarkable architecture in the city. We’ve broken down the top places of worship to explore on your visit to Savannah.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
With impressive stained-glass windows and towering steeples, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a testament to Savannah’s architecture and its past. Dedicated on its current site in 1876, the original cathedral suffered from one of the many fires in Savannah’s history and burned to the ground in 1898. The church was rebuilt in 1900, and now stands as the oldest Roman Catholic church in Georgia.
Built in French-Gothic style, the church features awe-inspiring adornments that stand out even in a city known for its architecture. See the bronze columns, Austrian-made stained glass and stunning archways on your own during a self-guided tour Monday through Saturday, or arrange a docent-led tour to learn about the building’s history from a member of the church.
First African Baptist Church
The First African Baptist Church in Savannah may have one of the most remarkable backstories of any church in the country. First founded in 1774 by George Liele, a Virginia-born slave who was freed to preach the gospel to slaves, this church is thought to be the oldest African-American congregation in the U.S. The church is nearly as old as the city itself, although the current structure dates from 1859-1861.
During a tour, you’ll learn about this church’s amazing history, such as its use as a safe house for fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. Inside, you can still see the holes drilled in the floor in the shape of a prayer symbol known as a Congolese Cosmogram, which are rumored to have served as breathing holes for slaves passing through the underground railroad underneath. During the era of segregation, this church served as the largest gathering place in Savannah for blacks and whites to meet together. With all of the history embodied here, it’s impossible to leave this church without a truly unique perspective of Savannah’s history.
Mickve Israel Synagogue
The Mickve Israel Synagogue is a unique place of worship for both Savannah and the Jewish faith. The third-oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, the founders of this congregation came to Savannah just a few months after the settlement’s founding by James Oglethorpe in 1733.
The synagogue is the only purely Gothic-revival synagogue in the United States, making it a truly one of a kind. The congregation offers tours on weekdays from 10 AM–3 PM, excluding Jewish and federal holidays. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Savannah during the Shalom Y’all Jewish Food Festival, you can see the synagogue while learning about Jewish culture firsthand, and enjoying delicious Jewish cuisine. You can read more about this unique food festival in our fall events blog post.
Independent Presbyterian Church
One of the most notable historic Savannah landmarks, the Independent Presbyterian Church was first established in 1755 on land deeded by King George to establish a public place of worship in Savannah. The original building burned down in 1796, and again in 1889. The current building was finished in 1891, and its tall steeple, Corinthian columns and marble baptism font hauled by wagon from New Jersey remain there to this day.
If you feel like you’ve seen the steeple of this church before, there’s a very good chance that you have. It was featured prominently in the opening scene of the movie Forest Gump, as a feather floats across the face of the church and down to Forest Gump’s feet at the edge of Chippewa square.
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