St. Mary’s of Annapolis – A Church Of Artistic Inspiration

Just a stone’s throw from the U.S. Naval Academy, a healthy jaunt from the Maryland State House, a short hike from the shore where Kunta Kinte – the ancestor of Roots author, Alex Haley – reached his destiny as a slave, and well within walking distance of the lovely pedestrian-friendly historical district of Annapolis stands a beautiful piece of architecture filled with glorious sacred art that can stir a person’s soul. 

 19th Century Architecture and Design
The Catholic Church of St. Mary’s in Annapolis is a classic 1800s northeast Catholic Church full of beautiful design.  The outside may make you stop and pause, but the inside is even more inspiring – well worth a chunk of time to explore and ponder. 

The sacred art inside St. Mary’s (the full name of the church is: Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary) presents Bible stories, lives of saints, and spiritual inspiration at every turn.  Spending a mere 15 minutes in the church observing the art will likely touch your heart and give your mind a bit of peace.

High Altar
Upon entering the church, eyes might quickly be drawn to the exquisite altar toward the front of the church.  The ornately detailed altar - including cross-topped spires seemingly pointing toward heaven - is made out of wood and was hand-painted by Redemptortist brothers. By looking closely just above the altar, visitors can see frescoes reminding them of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9), The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: 3-4), and The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). 

Within some alcoves in the altar are statues of people who lived admirably pious lives:
·        St. Ann, the mother of Mary who is depicted holding Mary as a young child.
·        St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish Carmelite nun who inspired the Carmelites to strengthen their focus on God.
·        St. Mary the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the church. 
·        St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorist Order, thus the patron of the priests of St. Mary’s in Annapolis.
·        St. Joachim, the husband of St. Ann and the father of Mary. 

Before too long, most eyes will feel pulled up toward the high arched ceiling with white rib-looking beams.  This stars-on-blue painted ceiling might remind visitors of the existence of heaven or of how worshiping the Lord at mass is like experiencing a touch of heaven. 

Stained Glass Windows
St. Mary’s holds many colorful and detailed stained glass windows sharing thought-provoking stories of faith.  One window represents the time Mary went to the hill country town of Judah to help her elderly kin, Elizabeth who was expecting a child – John the Baptist.  This window expresses the great joy Elizabeth felt when she first saw Mary.  Perhaps the artist hoped to express the elation Elizabeth felt in her womb, the sudden realization that Mary’s womb contained the Lord (Luke 1:39-45).

Another window portrays an event that took place about thirteen years later, when the twelve-year-old Jesus was separated from his parents after celebrating Passover in Jerusalem.  The stained glass artist depicted that moment when Mary and Joseph found him in deep spiritual dialogue with teachers in the Temple back in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46).   

Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross found at St. Mary’s in Annapolis are particularly rich in color and design; far different from many modern day Stations of the Cross.  This set of fourteen bas-relief images helps believers imagine going along the Via Dolorosa all the way from Christ’s condemnation to death by Pontius Pilate to his burial by St. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, accompanied by women of Galilee. With just a bit of contemplation, viewers can feel the distressful emotions on the day of Christ’s Crucifixion.

Deep American Catholic Roots
While St. Mary’s offers a great deal of artwork to consider, think about, and absorb – it also has some fascinating historical roots.

The land upon which St. Mary’s stands was donated to the Redemptortist religious order by descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton – the only Catholic who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Carroll’s home still stands on the property and is viewable to visitors.

Another historical tidbit is that in 1906, Charles A. Zimmerman, the organist at St. Mary’s Church (and the Naval Academy band master) composed the the music for the Navy song, “Anchors Aweigh.”

St. Mary’s was also the only place close-by where Catholic midshipmen from the nearby Naval Academy could attend mass until Catholic services were offered at the St. Andrew’s Chapel at the Academy in 1947.
Visiting St. Mary’s
St. Mary’s of Annapolis can be found at 109 Duke of Gloucester St. in Annapolis, MD.  It is easy to enter the church to attend mass; however, during non-mass times it is a little more of a challenge.  Visitors must walk around to the back of the church, past a perpetual adoration chapel, alongside a peaceful prayer garden and then into the nearby rectory door.  From the rectory, during open hours, visitors can usually get permission to go inside this beautiful church.  While it might be a bit of trouble, it is well worth the effort.

Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier (Catechism of the Catholic Church – 2502).

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Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, Imprimi Potest.   Catechism of the Catholic Church.  New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Saint Mary’s Parish – Annapolis.  Saint Mary’s Parish, Annapolis, Maryland, Timeline: 1632–2010 (Updated: Thursday, February 10, 2011).  Retrieved March 31, 2012 from

St. Mary’s Church.  Pamphlet prepared by St. Mary’s Parish-Annapolis, 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis, MD 21401.

 Taylor, Richard.  How to Read a Church.  Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring/Paulist Press, 2005.