Several new churches in Virginia capture the classical beauty of older forms of construction. Both Saint Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church in Fairfax and Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Aldie provide new pilgrimage sites in northern Virginia. A bit further south in Charlottesville — not far from Monticello and the University of Virginia — Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church is well worth a visit.
Beautiful architecture and art bring us closer to the divine. There’s a peace that comes to us from contemplating harmony wrought in stone. As Saint Paul instructs the Philippians, “whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4: 8. The soaring arches of a neo-Gothic or Gothic style church and the light suffusing into the interior through stained glass windows sing to our souls. They are indeed worthy of praise.
Corpus Christi Church
A recent article in the Arlington Catholic Herald thoughtfully comments on the Gothic style of Corpus Christi Church in its coverage of the Church’s dedication. Although spacing constraints due to the pandemic limited attendance inside, I watched the livestream dedication Mass with other participants in a comfortable tent on the wide lush lawn. When the audio temporarily cut out, I volunteered to read which I had just done as a lector at another Fairfax parish. Thankfully, the sound returned during the Gospel, in time for the Bishop’s homily!
Look for beautiful little details throughout the church. You’ll find a wrought altar rail with fanciful birds, wheat, and grape vines. Also, harmonious stone carvings on the ambo echo those of the altar. The almost luminous dark wood carved tabernacle stands out against the pale marble altar.
Above, cream colored arches seem to lift high the royal blue ceiling. Viewed from outside the front doors, the ceiling’s soaring geometry creates the illusion that this sacred building is bigger on the inside than the outside (with apologies to Dr. Who fans for stealing that phrase!).
Saint Mary of Sorrows
A year ago, the new St. Mary of Sorrow’s Church in Fairfax opened its doors. You can read more about its history and design here. My personal favorite design elements are the stunning blue windows behind the altar and the very expressive paintings of the Stations of the Cross from the Gospels.
The windows depict the seven sorrows of Mary as they draw your eyes up from the altar to the crucifix to the heavens. Rich in symbolism, the church is in the shape of a cross. Its twelve pillars represent the twelve apostles.
In addition, the church incorporates pieces of the parish’s history. You can read more about these artifacts in this excellent article about the church’s dedication in November 2020.
After quiet reflection and prayer in Saint Mary of Sorrow’s new church, head over to Route 123 and Fairfax Station Road to visit the parish’s 1860 historic church and cemetery. You may want to stop for refreshment at the eclectic DeClieu Coffee & Sandwich shop in old town Fairfax or visit Cameron’s Coffee & Chocolates on your way back to Route 50 for delicious treats.
Saint Thomas Aquinas Church
Two hours south, in Charlottesville, Virginia you’ll find an oasis of spiritual refreshment while visiting local sites such as Monticello and the University of Virginia. Saint Thomas Aquinas Church evokes the majesty and beauty of older buildings in a modern interpretation of Romanesque architecture.
Above the entrance, the words “nothing but you O Lord” beckon the pilgrim with all that Saint Thomas desired when offered any gift he might choose. The round blue dome accentuates the pale walls and criss-crossing arches.
Dominican friars continue to serve the university parish, as they have for over fifty years. An intriguing statue of Saint Dominic with a dog drew my attention as I wandered about after Mass. The dog holds a flaming torch in his mouth as he gazes up at the saint. While pregnant, Saint Dominic’s mother dreamed she would give birth to a dog who would set the world aflame. The statue charmingly captures that dream.
Before your visit, watch this video tour for details about the construction and meaning of this stunning church. If you are lucky, during your pilgrimage you’ll encounter one of the friars who can tell you more.
While in Charlottesville, don’t miss the beautiful architecture of the original University grounds. Tours frequently start at the classical Rotunda.
After walking around the University, stop by the “corner” area and the historic downtown. They offer many restaurants and shops for a down to earth contrast to the transcendent. During your pilgrimage to Charlottesville, you easily can feed your body as well as your mind and soul!