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Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church

Philadelphia’s first Catholic Cathedral from 1810 to 1837

Inside St Mary's Church

Inside St Mary's Church Credit: B. Krist for GPTMC

Description

The Experience

The marble pieta by French sculptor Boucher at the back of the church and two stories of brilliant stained glass windows create a mood of quiet grandeur. The interior, redone in 1979, retains historic reminders of its past, including a 1791 baptismal font, brass chandeliers from Independence Hall, and Bishop Conwell’s chair from the 1820s.

Its cemetery includes the remains of Commodore John Barry, known as the “Father of the American Navy”; General Moylan, aid to George Washington; Thomas Fitzsimmons, a member of the Continental Congress who helped draft the United States Constitution; and Michael Bouvier, great-great- grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. This historic church is open for visitors when there are no services (although there are no guided or self-guided tours.)

History

St. Mary’s was built in 1763, enlarged in 1810, and run as one parish with St. Joseph’s until 1830. Until 1886, the parishioners entered from 5th Street, down a path through its cemetery. In use since 1759, the cemetery began with graves moved from Old St. Joseph’s and the Catholic burial ground from Washington Square.

Other Information

Open Mon – Fri when services are not in session; call ahead.

Insider Tip

The cemetery is higher than street level due to the layering of graves. The top layer was added after the 1793 yellow fever epidemic.

Kids’ Stuff

St. Mary’s started the first American Catholic parish school in 1782.

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