Tourists and locals alike flock to Annapolis, Maryland, on the shores of the scenic Chesapeake Bay. A vacation destination itself, Annapolis boasts the historic Maryland State House, plentiful 18th century homes, museums, boats, and numerous charming small shops and restaurants. The U.S. Naval Academy and the Bay Bridge are nearby. Depending upon traffic, ocean beaches are only a couple of hours away. Whether you visit for scenery, history, or food, don’t miss religious sites inspiring awe in Annapolis.
My intent in visiting was to shop for boating supplies, but several stops transformed the day into more. In particular, Saint Mary’s Church and Saint John Neumann Mission Church added spiritual refreshment to my itinerary. Both are part of Saint Mary’s parish, one of the oldest in the United States. Redemptorist priests staff both churches. Each has a busy schedule of devotions and events (although limited in recent months due to COVID).
Saint Mary’s Church
Like beacons, Saint Mary’s spires soar above the winding streets of downtown Annapolis. On the website, you’ll find a detailed parish history What drew me to this church, however, was a photograph I saw of its beautiful interior. Arches of pale gold float in symmetry leading your eyes to the painted ceiling. There, like a twilight sky, the moon and stars punctuate a field of deep blue and draw your thoughts to a higher realm.
In addition, despite the stifling August heat and a short 30 minute time limit, every moment inside proved fruitful for prayer. As I’ve written elsewhere, beautiful art draws us closer to the divine. Inspiring awe in Annapolis through beauty, Saint Mary’s Church guides all visitors to the transcendent.
In particular, the altar fascinated me as rich in detail, theology, and carving. The center portrays Mary and Saint John on either side of the crucifix above a tabernacle imaging the host and chalice. Devout and expressive angels kneel on either side.
Similarly, the side chapels share the same ornate style carving in white marble. To the right, a beautiful icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help promotes reflection on the divine and human nature of the infant Christ. Surrounded by angels bearing the symbols of His future Crucifixion, the baby grasps his mother’s hand for comfort with a sandal dangling askew from one small foot. Mary’s eyes gaze at us, filled with compassion and love. As part of their mission, the Redemptorists encourage devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
To the left of the main altar, another side altar surrounds a painting of the child Jesus nestled in Saint Joseph’s arms, patting a lamb. Take in the emotions skillfully expressed in the gestures and eyes of the figures.
More Artistic Details
Moreover, the altar rail, windows, and stations of the cross are noteworthy. For instance, carved apostles support the warm brown wood rail. Mostly from 1918, the ornate stained glass windows use a painted style. In 1979 the church added the Saint John Neumann and Blessed Francis X. Seelos windows. Between the windows, pastel carved stations of the cross adorn the sides of Saint Mary’s Church. Even the floor is lovely with patterned tiles.
Saint John Neumann Mission Church
Only a short drive away, Saint John Neumann Mission Church shares the same meditative qualities as its mother church. A mission church is meant to be a pastoral outreach to Catholics, rather than apostolic missions geared to non-believers. As such, this simpler contemporary church had many gathering areas, including a courtyard with a statue of its patron saint and a garden with a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. In addition, the windows here depict the mysteries of the Rosary, encouraging practice of this devotion.
A missionary from what is now the Czech Republic, Saint John Neumann undertook an arduous journey to the United States to be ordained as a priest in New York. He embraced poverty and was known for his ministry to the poor. In 1842, he joined the Redemptorist Fathers in Baltimore. Later, as a Bishop, he founded Catholic schools and organized the first diocesan school system in the United States. As a missionary, he holds particular appeal for me.
Thus, my day in Annapolis reminded me that God is always present even in the midst of an ordinary shopping trip. Finding these two lovely churches and spending some time in prayer there converted my visit — even the shopping — into worship.
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You’ll find Saint Mary’s Church at 109 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis MD 21401. You can visit Saint John Neumann Mission Church at 620 Bestgate Rd., Annapolis MD 21401. Be sure to check the website for open hours and devotions.
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