The Beauty of Holiness

Anglicanism and Architecture in Colonial South Carolina

By Louis P. Nelson

496 pp., 7.5 x 10.5, 255 illus., 6 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2384-9
    Published: January 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8798-1
    Published: June 2009
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7900-4
    Published: June 2009

Richard Hampton Jenrette Series in Architecture and the Decorative Arts

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Awards & distinctions

2010 Best Book, Southeastern Society of Architectural Historians

Intermingling architectural, cultural, and religious history, Louis Nelson reads Anglican architecture and decorative arts as documents of eighteenth-century religious practice and belief. In The Beauty of Holiness, he tells the story of the Church of England in colonial South Carolina, revealing how the colony's Anglicans negotiated the tensions between the persistence of seventeenth-century religious practice and the rising tide of Enlightenment thought and sentimentality.

Nelson begins with a careful examination of the buildings, grave markers, and communion silver fashioned and used by early Anglicans. Turning to the religious functions of local churches, he uses these objects and artifacts to explore Anglican belief and practice in South Carolina. Chapters focus on the role of the senses in religious understanding, the practice of the sacraments, and the place of beauty, regularity, and order in eighteenth-century Anglicanism. The final section of the book considers the ways church architecture and material culture reinforced social and political hierarchies.

Richly illustrated with more than 250 architectural images and photographs of religious objects, The Beauty of Holiness depends on exhaustive fieldwork to track changes in historical architecture. Nelson imaginatively reconstructs the history of the Church of England in colonial South Carolina and its role in public life, from its early years of ambivalent standing within the colony through the second wave of Anglicanism beginning in the early 1750s.

About the Author

Louis P. Nelson is associate professor and chair of the Department of Architectural History at the University of Virginia.
For more information about Louis P. Nelson, visit the Author Page.


"This masterful study clearly demonstrates how the understanding of religious experience is enriched by moving beyond analysis of belief systems to explore the added dimenisons of material culture and lived religion. Highly recommended."--Choice

"Drawing on extensive field notes, appropriating useful insights from interdisciplinary perspectives, commanding the primary and secondary literatures, and displaying verve in style, Nelson's volume should become a standard point of reference for anyone interested in South Carolina Anglicanism and its material culture."--South Carolina Historical Magazine

"The Beauty of Holiness is an ambitiously conceived, richly imagined study that places South Carolina’s colonial churches at the intersection of formal theology and popular culture. Louis Nelson shows us memorable buildings filled with communion silver, textiles, furnishings, and books, surrounded by tombs and gravestones and animated by formal liturgy, personal devotional practices, interdenominational debate, and social rivalry. This is the best history of American churches yet written."--Dell Upton, University of California, Los Angeles

"Bringing together architectural, social, and religious history with equal fluency, Nelson reconstructs the life of the Church of England in colonial South Carolina. His scholarship is remarkable. He has mined archives in the American South, the West Indies, and Great Britain, and illustrates his analysis with an extensive array of his own high quality photographs. The Beauty of Holiness is a work of both historical value and captivating visual interest."--Peter W. Williams, author of Houses of God: Region, Religion, and Architecture in the United States