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St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church

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1763; 1810–1812 rebuilt, Charles Johnson, master carpenter; 1880, reorientation of church and west apse. 252 S. 4th St.

By virtue of its site on a principal street, St. Mary's quickly became the more fashionable of the two early Catholic churches of the city (St. Joseph's was the other; PH27). Its location on the west side of the block originally resulted in the placement of the altar at the street end like Christ Church (PH4), but this was reversed in 1880. From 1808, when the Philadelphia diocese was separated from Baltimore, until 1838, St. Mary's was the cathedral church of the city. The Thomas Ustick Walter–designed organ case (1839), with its simple pilasters, and the crucifix by William Rush, the first American sculptor of note, add interest to the interior. The exterior is a severe exercise in the Gothick, perhaps inspired by Benjamin Henry Latrobe's Philadelphia Bank (1807; demolished). The interior by contrast was an exercise in gilding and color that prompted John Adams to exclaim in his diary, “the scenery and the music are so calculated to take in mankind, that I would wonder the Reformation ever succeeded.” In the graveyard are buried such leaders as Commodore John Barry and neighbor Michael Bouvier.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 70-70.

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