Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“There’s a light”—Christ Church, Frederica

6329 Frederica Road
St. Simons Island, Georgia

In the velvet darkness
Of the blackest night
Burning bright
There’s a guiding star
No matter what or who you are
There’s a light.
--“Over at the Frankenstein Place” from The Rocky
Horror Show music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien

Christ Church lies some distance from the hubbub that is the southern portion of Georgia’s Saint Simon’s Island. The past few decades have turned this quiet, island retreat into a vacation mecca. I’ve been coming here since I was young and I’ve watched with sadness as the island has been developed. Quiet marshes have become condo developments and gated communities. Restaurants and shopping centers have replaced forests of palmetto and live oak. Though, with the masses that arrive from all over the region to relax at the beach, the roads have not been widened to maintain the stately oaks lining them.

Christ Church, 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The further north you travel, the development becomes more and more sparse. Interestingly, the Frederica area, the first area settled by Europeans, is not as well developed. This leaves the remains of Fort Frederica and Christ Church in far more bucolic settings. Though, some years ago I was heartbroken when a residential subdivision sprung up behind the church’s fabled cemetery. This place is one of my favorite places on earth. The beauty, history and mystery of this place provides me with solace. When I “go to a happy place” in my mind this is it.
Cycads grow in this Edenic cemetery. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Underneath the sprawling, moss-laden ancient oaks, this church and cemetery bear witness to a marvelous history. Fort Frederica, a fortified town a short distance down the road from the church was first ministered to by the inimitable Wesley brothers, John and Charles, in 1736, only three years after the founding of the colony of Georgia. John Wesley, General Oglethorpe’s Secretary on Indian Affairs and Chaplain, worked tirelessly to plant the seeds of faith among the rowdy bands who populated this most Southern of the colonies. Wesley would go to found a religious sect that would take the name of Methodists for the methodical way they led their lives.

Fort Frederica was mostly a ghost town by the American Revolution when the island began to be divided into plantations. In 1808 a small, clapboard building was erected within a small cemetery. The cemetery actually pre-dates the church by about five years. Over time, the cemetery became the burial sites for many of the families in the island’s plantations. It is from this pastoral period on the island that the legend of the Christ Church cemetery comes to us.

The azaleas are now blooming in the cemetery at Christ Church.
Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The story has been passed around so frequently that there are numerous variations, but the basic premise remains the same. At some point during the antebellum years a young woman was buried in the cemetery. Her husband began a tradition of leaving a candle on her grave at night and even after his death, the candle still appeared. For years, island locals and visitors would see a light within the cemetery at night. Some versions of the tale tell of a young woman tormented by stories that had been told her by her Caribbean-born (hence a possible voudou connection) nurse. She was so afraid of the dark that she became adept at candle-making and some versions blame her early death on an infected wax burn. Regardless, this beautiful legend of undying love comes down to us to explain the mysterious light.

Alas, the march of progress has obliterated views of the light. A brick wall was built along Frederica Road some time ago. At night, large spotlights shine on the church and there are no modern reports that I can find of the light. Though, it’s not hard to imagine other spirits having the desire to return to this Eden, even in the moss-shrouded velvet darkness of night.

Sources
History ofChrist Church, Frederica. Christ Church, Frederica
     Website. Accessed 20 March 2012.
Killion, Ronald G. and Charles T. Waller. A Treasury of Georgia
     Folklore. Atlanta, GA: Cherokee Publishing, 1972.
Vanstory, Burnette. Ghost Stories and Superstitions of Old St.
     Simons. St. Simons Island, GA: Coastal Georgia Historical
     Society. No date.
Wangler, Chris. Ghost Stories of Georgia: True Tales of Ghostly
     Hauntings. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing, 2006.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey.
     Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of Alabama Press, 1973.

4 comments:

  1. We used to head up to St. Simmons and Jekyll any chance we got. This is one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen. Well, there's another beauty I love on Fort George Island in FL near the Kingsley Plantation that looks very much like this one. Awesome post, Lewis. Learned more about it via you.

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  2. I am thrilled to have found your blog. I am a cemetery lurker too, and southern historian. I was actually doing a bit of research on the Christ Church cemetery when I landed on your blog. Do you know too, about the little Pink Church on SSI,and the haunting there? Also, the old Colonial cemetary in Midway Ga? Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

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  3. I'm not familiar with the Pink Church at SSI, please tell me what you know!

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