Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wrath of God - Charlestown SC - Great Fire of 1861 – Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar

The picture above of the devastated Catholic cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar was taken in 1865.  Not much had been done in Charleston since the great fire of 1861 that destroyed one third of that city.  The fire spread due to the fact that most of its firemen had enlisted in the Confederate Army and only unskilled slaves were left to man the fire pumps and ladder companies in the city.  A touch of irony, in that the fanaticism of the Southern cause, whereby blind patriotism is not worth a pitcher of spit to throw on an out of control urban firestorm.
Because the pictures are dated in 1865, many times the destruction of the fire of 1861 which had not been restored by 1865 is mistaken by some historians and or southern propagandists, in that these photos are assumed to be the direct cause of Northern hostilities and bombardment etc.
While the Catholic cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar was not struck down by lightning from the Almighty, it did on April 14, 1861 celebrate a mass of thanksgiving, marking the surrender of Union Soldiers at Fort Sumter in the harbor, the official start of the Civil War, the mass followed by the singing of Te Deum, the national anthem of the RCC.
Jefferson Davis’ Confederate Ambassador to the Vatican Bishop Patrick Lynch encountered a few obstacles in his career.  Pius IX refused to receive Lynch as Ambassador, since the Vatican had not given full diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy. The winds of defeat were in the air in 1864 and Pius did not want to be identified with a losing cause.  Lynch was received in private audience with His Holiness as a "bishop" only.

Bishop Lynch defended slavery and the Confederacy in the press north and south.  There were many quotations in the war of words between himself and northern abolitionists and northern bishops centered on the 1839 Papal Bull Supremo Apostolatus condemning slavery. Lynch and other slave owning bishops in the south interpreted the bull as merely condemning the slave trade and not the institution.
In Supremo Apostolatus is a papal bull issued by Pope Gregory XVI regarding the institution of slavery. Issued on December 3, 1839 as a result of a broad consultation among the College of Cardinals, the bull resoundingly denounces both the slave trade and the continuance of the institution of slavery.

Once in Europe, he traveled extensively to seek aid for the Confederacy and even got an audience with Napoleon III of France. Because the war was going so bad for the South in the final months of the American Civil War, few ships were available to run the Northern Blockade and fewer still that would transport someone traveling under Confederate credentials. Lynch got stuck in Europe for a long time.

Lynch tried to get a visa under President Andrew Johnson’s general amnesty following the war but Lynch was refused based on his history.  He made application to the American Secretary of State for an exemption and downplayed, lied about all his anti-abolition writings and instead emphasized his inflated role in the Church’s humanitarian aid to Northern POWs, hospital aid to battlefields etc. 
Once back in Charleston, Lynch and the South were penniless.  He went on a wide tour in Europe and in Northern states begging for money to rebuild the loss of many buildings, schools, convents, orphanages lost in the great fire of 1861 and through the war itself.
After the passing of the Archbishop Dagger John Hughes of New York City, a friend of abolition and Abraham Lincoln, Lynch who had kept up a courteous but frosty correspondence with Hughes during the war went there and did a complete PR makeover in NYC.  (You know how that goes, turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse even to this day. Wink. Nod. LOL).  
Lynch was now famous in the North as the Catholic humanitarian who traveling across enemy lines with diplomatic humanitarian papers bringing medical supplies, aid and succor to the Union soldiers, imprisoned down south. Just your typically dedicated politically active freedom loving, money raising American bishop. Whatever. The paperwork for Bishop Lynch's recently revived future sainthood is pending somewhere in committee at the USCCB as I understand things.
The Charleton cathedral eventually got rebuilt by the beginning of the twentieth century, a pale reflection of its past. The Irish Saint Finbar got dropped from the name to a simple St. John the Baptist.