Photos and Text by Amy Proctor
Most people don’t typically think of the Deep South as a place with great Catholic culture, but the truth is that the Church is thriving in Savannah, Georgia. The Diocese of Savannah claims 77,287 Catholics, impressive numbers considering the Protestant hegemony in this part of America. Savannah’s first Catholic parish was founded in the late 18th century, and it took about a hundred years to establish a bishop’s seat.
Centerpiece of the Faith
The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist was officially dedicated in 1876. Located squarely in the center of historic Savannah, Savannah’s famous Cathedral overlooks quaint Lafayette Park, on the route of horse-drawn carriages toting tourists around the city.
The interior of the Cathedral is simply stunning. Marble pillars, stained-glass windows, a large pipe organ and breathtakingly high ceilings with enormous murals depict Biblical scenes and the lives of the saints.
An Awe-Inspiring Latin Mass
Today, the Cathedral is one of only two Churches which offer the Latin Mass in the Diocese, and Christmas Mass there should not be missed.
Worshiping at the Latin Mass in this beautiful setting during the Christmas season cannot but make the Catholic feel incredibly privileged, and really connected to the centuries of Catholic tradition. As the incense rises to the ceiling, you can almost feel the presence of the Saints worshiping with the present faithful… and it is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
There’s a reason Catholics who attend the Latin Mass at the Cathedral call it “heaven on earth.” It truly is.
Christmastime in Savannah’s Cathedral
In the American South, they do everything big — and Christmas is no exception. And without a doubt, the most spectacular Christmas attraction in Savannah is the annual decorating of the Cathedral.
Christmas decorations go up on the first of Advent through Epiphany, drawing approximately 20,000 visitors.
During Advent, Our Lady’s Chapel is decorated so spectacularly that immediately after Mass, tourists rush in to walk the length of the nativity scene, which spans from the altar rail to the rear of Our Lady’s Chapel.
They gaze with reverence on the Christ Child in a manger, attended by Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, shepherds and animals. In the distance is Jerusalem, rendered lifelike with hills and trees, and the scene includes angels and saints, and even a running fountain of water.
At the entrance to the beautiful Blessed Sacrament Chapel is an attention-grabbing 22 foot Christmas tree, constructed entirely of glowing red poinsettias. It is one of the Cathedral’s most photographed decorations during Christmas.
Another Great Christmas Treasure
Savannah has another great Christmas treasure, the Lucas Theatre. Savannah is brilliant at closing the divide between old and new, modern and traditional. You definitely get the best of both worlds at the historic LucasTheatre, which opened almost ninety-two years ago.
The allure of the Lucas Theatre is its Art Deco “theater era” decor. The design may make the movie-goer feel a little under-dressed — as if you should have remembered to bring your top hat or fur coat — but the cozy and accommodating interior makes you feel a welcomed friend. It’s a sort of time capsule that belongs to everyone.
Last Christmas, the old black-and-white holiday classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed showed for one night only to a nearly sold out audience. The elegant Christmas décor and the classic Christmas film on the big screen created a warm holiday feeling. This is truly a unique Savannah experience that should not be missed!
Christmas in Savannah draws many thousands of visitors every year. If you are among the many who want to experience the season with southern hospitality and a rich Catholic heritage, see http://www.visitsavannah.com/ for more information.
Y’all will be glad you did!