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The Basilica of Saint Mary, Alexandria

#7 of 15 in Historic Sites in Alexandria
Church · Hidden Gem · Tourist Spot
Founded in 1795, the Church of St. Mary, located in Alexandria, Virginia, is the oldest Catholic parish in the Commonwealth of Virginia and West Virginia, which comprised one state territory until 1863. President George Washington made the first contribution for the creation of a Catholic parish in Virginia in the late 1700s, equivalent to approximately $1,200 today. A chapel was built at the south end of the city in 1795, on land still used today as St. Mary’s Cemetery.

In 1810, the parish moved to its present location in the heart of the city at 310 South Royal Street. By 1826, Pastor Fr. Joseph Fairclough erected the Sanctuary and the major portion of the present day church. Throughout the 1800s, the Church of St. Mary played a crucial role in the growth of Catholicism in Virginia. Many mission churches established by Church of St. Mary have gone on to become independent parishes within the Diocese of Arlington.

Today, the Church of St. Mary continues to be a vibrant and lively parish community with 50 apostolate groups, 400 parishioners regularly volunteering throughout the community, 20 lay staff members and 3 full-time priests. In 2020, the Church of St. Mary will celebrate 225 years of parish life. St. Mary’s School (K-8) had a record enrollment of 712 students for this academic year (2017-2018), and will also celebrate a historic 150th anniversary in 2019.
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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
53 reviews
  • It was one of the few locations that was open. The statutes and art are beautiful. Even the back of the church has beautiful statute.  more »
  • We went for Sunday mass. Beautifull stained glas all around. First Catholic church in Virginia, late 1700s. Now a Basilica.  more »
  • Historic church. George Washington gave a significant donation to this church at it's founding. Colonel Fitzgerald, George Washington's aide, helped found this first Catholic Church in Virginia. George Washington supported religious freedom and pluralism in the new republic.
  • Loved the St. Isaac Jogues Missals and the size and participation of the congregation.

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