Vacation highlight: ‘The Notre Dame of the South’

By Megan Erbacher

This time last week, I was basking in the sunshine of Hilton Head Island, enjoying the salty air whirring by, sand in my toes and the sound of waves crashing to the shore. Last Friday was the end of a weeklong vacation to South Carolina with my fiancé and some of our friends.

I love the beach; something about lounging around and soaking up the sun relaxes me. Toss a good book and some tunes into the mix and I’m set. I believe vacations — big or small — are great to step away from the daily grind. You get to unwind, detach for a bit and rejuvenate your mind.

I easily could have spent every day at the beach pausing only to indulge in some fresh seafood, but we did take a few days to explore Hilton Head and some of the surrounding areas. It was my first time to Hilton Head Island, so I was excited to see and experience new places.

Before I dive into the highlight of the trip, I’ll share some of our excursions, which included shopping (who doesn’t love a good deal at the outlet stores?); dining on delicious seafood; and touring Harbour Town where the historic red-and-white-striped lighthouse is located. Our friends had already seen the view from the top of the lighthouse, so my fiancé begrudgingly (he’s not a fan of heights, but he did it to humor me) climbed to the top with me and wow, what a breathtaking view!

We also took a ferry ride to Daufuskie Island, located between Hilton Head and Savannah, which is the southernmost inhabited sea island in South Carolina. Golf carts are the main mode of transportation on the island, so we rented one to do a self-guided tour.

Before we took off on the adventure, a guide told us we could get from one end of the island to the other in about 25 minutes. With just a couple of paved roads, the rest is a mixture of sand and dirt; it was refreshing to step away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland scene for a bit to witness a simpler way of life.

An unexpected bonus on the ferry ride to Daufuskie Island: We were treated to a dolphin show as we watched about eight dolphins playing in the water.

As wonderful and fun as all of this was, I have to admit a highlight of my trip was when we went to Savannah, Georgia. We took a hop-on-hop-off trolley tour to learn more about the city with the bonus of getting a little breeze through the windows along the way.

One of the stops on the trolley tour was the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. I was pleased to see how many trolley-riders got off at the stop and also at the number of people who were already in the Cathedral admiring its architecture and splendor.

While I didn’t see this officially posted anywhere, as we stepped off the trolley our tour guide said many people refer to the Cathedral as “The Notre Dame of the South.” I haven’t been to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, so I can only imagine its magnificence and look at photos until hopefully one day I get to visit it once it’s rebuilt. As for Savannah’s “Notre Dame of the South,” it is stunning. My fiancé and friends were also mesmerized by its jaw-dropping beauty.

The church, which is an active house of worship, is open for self-guided and docent-led tours when Mass, most Holy Days and other religious events aren’t scheduled. It was dedicated at the current site on April 30, 1876. A fire destroyed most of the structure in 1898, but it was rebuilt and re-opened in 1900.

The Cathedral is in the top 10 historic sites to visit in the United States, according to its website. The combined area of the upper and lower levels is more than 28,000 square-feet, and there are 81 brightly-colored stained glass windows throughout both levels of the Cathedral. The center aisle is 114 feet long, and the ceilings are 66 feet high with the roof peaking at 96 feet. The steeple bell, which was cast in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1900, weighs 4,730 pounds and hangs 96 feet above the ground.

The Cathedral also has an ornate Holy Oils Ambry, 34 detailed murals and a pipe organ built by the Noack Organ Co. with 34 ranks and 2,308 pipes. But that’s just scratching the surface of all it has to offer worshippers.

Needless to say, if you’re ever in Savannah, do yourself a favor and visit the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. You won’t regret it.