Historic architecture defines Savannah. More than twenty extant historic park squares are sanctuaries in the city’s Historic Districts. The Cotton Exchange reminds us that Savannah once set world prices for cotton, lumber, and turpentine. Historic homes line the streets – some private homes, some businesses, and some luxurious Savannah Vacation Rentals.
In a sea of noteworthy buildings on the National Historic Register, a few stand out as quite remarkable. Architecture buffs should take note of the Temple Mickve Israel and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, two buildings that reflect the history of the Savannah in their walls.
Savannah is home to the third oldest Jewish community in the United Sates. 43 Jewish pioneers left London for the New World in 1733 – most of them Spanish/Portuguese Jews who had long practiced their faith in secret. They fled extreme poverty in London, their journey underwritten by some of the wealthiest members of that London community.
Temple Mickve Israel, overlooking Monterey Square, was not built when these first Jewish settlers arrived in Savannah. Early Jewish residents worshipped in private homes, and it was 1829 before the first synagogue was erected in Savannah. The first one burnt, and the congregation outgrew its replacement. The current Temple Mickve Israel was consecrated in 1878. Designed by New York architect Henry G. Harrison, it is “pure neo-Gothic” in style. It is also magnificent to behold.
A few blocks away, near Lafayette Square, stands the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. Many of Savannah’s early settlers were French Catholics who fled the uprising in Haiti and the Revolution in France at the end of the 18th century. Their first houses of worship were much more humble than the present-day Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, built in 1874. Today’s impressive cathedral was built to reflect a diocese that included the entire state of Georgia, 20,000 Catholics, and 30 churches. It is reminiscent of the great cathedrals of Europe.
Simply standing under the vaulted ceilings of these two buildings may be a transformative experience, even for people not religiously inclined. Both exude a simple grace and elegance. Both infuse the soul with peace.
Tours of Temple Mickve Israel and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist are available. Please see their websites for details. You may decide one of these buildings is perfect for your Savannah wedding ceremony.