There are a lot of “firsts” to be found at the historic and vibrant Basilica of Saint Mary in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Saint Mary was the first Catholic church in Virginia (and West Virginia before it became a separate state), It is the first basilica in Northern Virginia and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. George Washington made the first financial contribution to the parish to assist in building the original Saint Mary church. And, to cover all bases, the first Catholic cemetery in Virginia is located on Saint Mary’s property.
A visit to the Basilica is rewarding spiritually, aesthetically and historically. The beautiful architecture and art raise your heart and mind to God. The serene pale marble and many exquisite artistic details make it easy to sit and contemplate God’s beauty and love. There are layers upon layers of beauty here, from the overall architecture to small gems like the stained glass above the altar or details of the carving and painting on the ceiling.
History and art fans will enjoy the many stories, sculptures and stained glass windows. Take a look at Saint Mary’s website before you visit to get the most out of the experience. Be sure to stop at the statue of Saint Thomas More, one of my favorite saints. It captures his fortitude and steadfast faith when he was imprisoned by King Henry VIII.
The Basilica is very conveniently located for those visiting Washington, D.C. or Virginia attractions. You can easily stop by on your way to or from the monuments in DC or George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, a bit further south. Or, you may want to make the Basilica of Saint Mary part of a day long visit to Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor. A water taxi runs to and from the National Harbor complex over the Potomac with wonderful views. You can spend many enjoyable hours walking along Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront, visiting its museums and art galleries, and sampling its many fine restaurants. In any event, don’t miss this absolutely lovely minor Basilica on a quiet shady street in the middle of Old Town Alexandria.
Daily morning or mid-day Masses are celebrated during the week as well as Sunday Mass and Saturday vigil on the weekend. The website lists times for Mass, Confession and devotions, as well as upcoming social events, educational talks, and charitable volunteer opportunities at this very welcoming community. Catholics and others seeking to make God part of their vacation may also enjoy visiting a bookstore run by the Daughters of St. Paul just a few blocks from the Basilica.
My personal experience of the Basilica dates back over many years when I lived in Northern Virginia. I attended young adult events, the annual St. Cecilia Festival, and a praise and prayer group in Saint Mary’s Lyceum. I stop by the Basilica to pray, go to Mass, and soak in its beauty whenever I’m in the area. There’s always something that catches my attention for the first time, no matter how many times I visit.
The Basilica of Saint Mary is located at 310 South Royal St., Alexandria, VA 22314 . The telephone number is 703-836-4100, and the very informative website can be explored here. May you find blessed peace within its walls.