Kingstree, S.C.: A Privileged Name for a Privileged Place

COMMENTARY for Christ the King Sunday

(photo: Shutterstock)

According to official listings, there is only one location in the entire United States that has the name Kingstree. No city or town in our country is called Kingstree except the one in South Carolina.

Kingstree is the small town where the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina, Our Lady of Joyful Hope is located. How Kingstree got its name is providential.

The common story has it that, in 1730, the governor wanted townships to be established in the interior of the state. Explorers went up the major rivers to examine the terrain. When the explorer on the Black River came to this area, he saw something unusual. On a bluff, overlooking the river, was a great northern white pine tree. By law, these were reserved for the Royal Navy because they were tall, straight and light, perfect for masts.

The explorer marked that tree as the “king’s tree” and thus the area became identified this way.


Biblical Links

Besides the historical significance, there is religious significance, from a biblical perspective, as well. There are four places in the New Testament that refer to the cross of Christ as a tree.

Acts 5:30 gives the apostle Peter’s reply to the high priest, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” Peter says something similar when speaking to Cornelius in Acts 10:39: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

Paul the Apostle uses the same terms in Antioch: “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb” (Acts 13:29). Paul makes the same reference in Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.’”

The basis is found in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death, and he is put to death, you shall hang him on a tree … for a hanged man is accursed by God.” 

Because wood comes from trees, the Jewish people referred to the cross as a tree.

Thus Scripture clearly shows that the original Christians referred to the cross as a tree.

When we look upon the cross of Christ on Calvary, we see above his head the placard stating his crime — Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews. Consequently, the cross becomes the true “King’s Tree.”

The Catholic Church has long meditated on this mystery and has included this theme in its official prayers. It also recalls a specific tree in Genesis, whose forbidden fruit brought death to Adam and Eve. In the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, a Psalm antiphon states, “See how the cross of the Lord stands revealed as the Tree of Life.” The Preface for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross says: “For you placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the cross, so that where death arose life might again spring forth, and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered ...”

In its Mass in commemoration of the passion of Jesus, the Church again centers on the King’s Tree: “The power of the cross reveals your judgment on this world and the kingship of Christ crucified.” 

During Holy Week, the Church prays with great trust, “Father, you made the cross the Tree of Life; give its fruit to those reborn in baptism.”

Peace summarizes all those gifts. And Mary is part of both.


Marian Connection

Since Mary became the Queen when he became King, she became the Queen at the foot of the King’s Tree. The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows prays: “Rejoice, O Sorrowful Mother; after your great sufferings, you shine forth as Queen enthroned beside your Son.”

Colossians 1:20 states that “Jesus made peace through the blood of his cross” — making them the King and Queen of Peace. That peace is now sacramentally available to us in the sacrifice of each Mass.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asks in Romeo and Juliet.

Kingstree has an answer. It encodes the mystery of salvation. Throughout this town, there are signs, big and small, reminding all that “Jesus Saves” — and so he does: on a King’s Tree with his Queen Mother, Mary — the New Adam, Father of the World to Come and the New Eve, Mother of All the Living in the New Creation.

Since the Real Presence of Calvary is sacramentally upon our altars at every Consecration of the Mass, it means we celebrate the kingship of Christ in the Paschal Mystery of the Altar. Christ is present as King in the Eucharist.

In fact, the title “Christ” ultimately means “King,” according to the Hebrew connotation of that word. “Christ” means “The Anointed One” in Greek and “Messiah” in Hebrew, which referred to the king.

Priests were also anointed, and so Christ is our priest-king, as prefigured by Melchizedek, who was a priest-king, recognized as such by Abraham, our father in faith.

Since Our Lord is King when he comes to us in Communion, that means he comes to establish his Kingdom in us, sharing with us those benefits he acquired by his self-sacrifice on the cross, the King’s Tree — the main one being our filiation through him with God the Father, achieved by the Holy Spirit, making each one of us truly a child of God.

Soon-to-be St. John Paul II teaches in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church) that Our Lady is mystically present at the sacred Sacrifice of the Mass as she was physically present on Calvary. She participated perfectly in her divine Son’s offering to God the Father and, by being “Full of Grace,” she wants to form us into perfect filial participants as well. In this way, we become the proper worshippers and witnesses that God the Father desires and deserves.

That is why the charism and spirituality of the Kingstree shrine is Eucharistic evangelization in the “School of Mary,” especially as presented by Blessed John Paul II. For this reason, he is invoked as a major patron of our shrine. He proclaimed at the Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska in Poland that, there, the Mother of God nourished his heart. We particularly pray to him to obtain for all of us that same grace at our diocesan shrine to Our Lady.


Special Delivery

A significant incident from a couple of years ago relates to this very meaning. A former Connecticut parishioner of mine informed me that she was given some religious items unfamiliar to her, which she sent to me. My mail is delivered to the diocesan house on the same street as my residence. It so happened that I was so occupied with pilgrims at the shrine one Friday and Saturday that I could not pick up my mail until Sunday — which I never had to do before.

Amongst my mail was the packet from her. Surprisingly, it contained a relic of the True Cross!

The timing was special and significant. That particular Sunday was the Solemnity of Christ the King. On that feast of Christ the King, the Kingstree shrine received a piece of the King’s Tree.


Father Stanley Smolenski is the rector and co-founder

of Our Lady of South Carolina, Our Lady of Joyful Hope Shrine.