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In Great Britain of the 1600's religious struggles between Protestants and Catholics were well underway before Maryland's first Catholic colonists arrived at St. Clement's Island in March 1634, aboard sailing ships, the Ark and the Dove. Leonard Calvert celebrated the first Roman Catholic Mass in English-speaking America as he took possession of the land "for Savior and Sovereign." The Maryland colony began in this area of North America along with the new concepts of religious toleration and the separation of church and state. A 40 foot commemorative cross is erected on the Island.

At the Potomac River Museum on Colton's Point, located on MD Route 242, one can read about the important "Act Concerning Religion" passed by the Maryland General Assembly of 1649, making Maryland the first colony extending religious toleration to all settlers believing in the Trinity! However, this Act lasted only five years. After a rebellion, the Act was restored with King Charles' intervention in 1658. More trouble ensued in 1689 when Protestant rebels petitioned the Crown to take over the province. King William declared Maryland a Royal Colony and insisted on the Anglican Episcopalians getting more prominence. Tolerance ended, and Catholics were largely persecuted for a hundred years until the American Revolution ended British rule. This report does not necessarily include all early churches in Southern Maryland, but as time permits other early churches will be added.

Early Catholics in Maryland

St. Mary's City

St. Mary's City was the first capital of Maryland and the fourth permanent settlement in North America. It is now an outdoor living history museum located on Route 5, at St. Mary's City, Maryland. One of the archaeological sites in this living history museum is the place where the first Catholic Chapel in America was built in 1667. It is now being completely reconstructed. An informative sign states that the "Birth of Religious Freedom in America" took place at St. Mary's.

St. Ignatius Church at St. Inigoes

St. Mary's Chapel was closed in 1704 by Royal Governor decree, following the Protestant Rebellion. The dispossessed congregation moved to St. Inigoes where they built the St. Ignatius Church on Villa Road, St. Inigoes, Maryland. The church was built on manor lands acquired by the Jesuits. Before the St. Ignatius Church was built, Catholic services were held legally at the manor house. The St. Ignatius Church built in 1745 was replaced in 1785 and is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The Church contains original stained glass windows, box pews, an exceptional altar, and a sculpture of a recumbent Christ placed in a large niche. Their cemetery is the oldest on the Atlantic Coast.

St. Francis Xavier Church

Even from the very beginning of Catholicism when the colonists arrived at St. Clement's Island, the Jesuit priests conducted missionary work but did not build many churches in order to ensure that Catholics gave no cause for criticism by the English authorities. However, they were able to establish parishes and build small chapels on manor lands. A parish was established in 1661 at 21370 Newtowne Neck Road, Leonardtown, Maryland where a small chapel named St. Francis Xavier was built in 1662. The present Church was built in 1731 and has an unusual three-sided vestibule, an altar with a strikingly painted blue reredos, boxed pews, and framed paintings of the Stations of the Cross on the walls.

St. Francis Xavier Church was built on a bluff on William Bretton's manor lands. Bretton's manor house of 1789 is currently being reconstructed and is close to the St. Francis Xavier Church. It was important as a headquarters for maintaining missions in other parts of the colonies, as well as for conducting business activities such as tobacco farming, blacksmith work, and flour-milling. Both the manor house and St. Francis Xavier Church are on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. Ignatius Church at Port Tobacco

The St. Ignatius Church at 8855 Chapel Point Road, Port Tobacco, Maryland was founded by Jesuits in 1641 and is the nation's oldest active parish. Situated on a 120 foot bluff overlooking the joining of Port Tobacco River and the Potomac, it commands a beautiful view, including amazing sunsets. The cemetery is extensive, containing imposing funerary sculptures located down a long slope. The cornerstone of the current Church was laid in 1798 and modifications had to be made in 1866 after a fire destroyed much of the interior.

Mount Carmel Monastery

The first monastery for religious women in Colonial America was founded by Carmelite nuns in 1790 at Mount Carmel Drive, La Plata, Maryland. The small group of nuns who founded the Mount Carmel Monastery were natives of Charles County. The Reverend Charles Neale donated 860 acres to the Carmelites for the monastery. Two of the original convent buildings have been restored. Stations of the Cross along the side of the Chapel are especially inspirational, each one of them housed on a post with a triangular roof over the bas-relief. One larger display of Jesus was at one end of the Stations of the Cross.

Early Episcopalians in Maryland

Christ Church, Port Republic

Christ Church at 3100 Broomes Island Road, Port Republic, Maryland, is one of the original parishes of the province of Maryland and Calvert county's oldest continuously worshipping congregation. The original 1672 church was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1772. Many of the old materials were incorporated in the new one; the old brick walls are stuccoed in a light tan color, and the old stained glass windows were used. There is an adjacent walled garden with flowers, shrubs and trees. In August, the annual jousting tournament is held on the large lawn behind the Church.

Christ Church, La Plata

The original building of this Church was constructed in 1683 on Port Tobacco Creek in rural Maryland. Port Tobacco Parish was among the 30 Church of England parishes established in 1692 by the Provincial Assembly. A new church fashioned after the English country churches was built on the Port Tobacco Square in 1884. In 1904 it was dismantled and moved to 110 E. Charles street, La Plata, Maryland by oxcarts that carried the heavy numbered stones.

All Saints Episcopal Church

One of the oldest Episcopal churches in Maryland, All Saints Episcopal Church at Routes 2 and 4, Lower Marlboro Road, Sunderland, Maryland, was established in 1692 in a log structure. The present church was built in 1774. The building deteriorated and almost ceased to exist. However, it was restored in 1952. It sits on a hill in a tranquil setting, surrounded by huge Canadian hemlocks. Its front is unusual in that there is a central window with two double doors, one on each side of the window. It is also unusual to have the bell tower and cross at the back of the Church.

Christ Church, Ironsides

Christ Church, Durham Parish at 8685 Ironsides Road, Nanjemoy, Maryland, is among the oldest Episcopal churches in Maryland. It is one of the 30 Church of England parishes established in 1692. In 1732 they began construction of the brick church which eventually replaced the original log church. The communion service, of London Silver of 1707, is said to be one of the oldest in the United States. Christ Church's interior has particularly pleasing lines. By the front gate, there is a replica of an ancient sundial.

All Faith Episcopal Church

The original log structure of All Faith Episcopal Church, Route 6, Charlotte Hall, Maryland, was built prior to 1675 and rebuilt in 1693. It was replaced by the present colonial Flemish bond brick building in 1767. In the 1800's stained glass windows, pews and chancel furniture were added. In 1954 a rose window was placed above the altar. All Faith's bell tower is a completely separate construction.

Middleham Episcopal Chapel

Middleham Episcopal Chapel at 10210 H. G. Trueman Road, Lusby, Maryland, was founded in 1684, and claims to be the oldest in Calvert County still occupying its original site; the bell bears an inscription with a date of 1699 and the brickwork bears the date of 1748, outlined in lighter colored brick above the entrance. It is cruciform in plan and both wings have Gothic arch doorways on the interior.

Christ Episcopal Church Parish, Chaptico

Chaptico was a prosperous port town which has a long history. It was raided by the British in July 1814. Christ Church at Chaptico, located at intersection of Maryland routes 238 and 234, is one of Maryland's finest landmarks still standing and still has a congregation of worshippers. The first church was built in 1642 by Thomas Gerrard and the parish was organized in 1692. The present building was erected in 1736. Its architectural style is Georgian with the roof sharply steeped; its portico is three sided with an arch in each side.

St. Andrews Episcopal Parish Church

St. Andews at Route 4, California, Maryland, was completed in 1767, and was recently renovated. It is an outstanding example of colonial architecture, with an unusual inset portico and a large Palladian window surmounting it. Two balconies and the original box pews are inside. The hand-lettered altarpiece, or reredos, was painted in 1771. During reconstruction the reredos was mostly removed to protect it. We have been unable to see the inside of the Church since the renovation, and look forward to seeing it completed sometime in the near future.

Oldfields Chapel

This Chapel at Route 231, Hughesville, Maryland, was completed in 1769 and is in use today. During the war of 1812 Benedict was the landing site for British troops. Oldfields Chapel was used as a campground for the forces who marched to the nation's capitol and burned the city. Two soldiers died and were buried in the cemetery that surrounds the church.

Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Mary's

The Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Mary's City, Maryland, was built in 1829 from bricks salvaged from the original State House building in St. Mary's City. Now, the bricks are painted grey. The small vestibule has a lovely pointed roof and a round window above it. Its stained glass windows are brightly colored and one of them is shown at the top of this report. The monument to Leonard Calvert on the Church grounds marks the site where the Maryland Colonists assembled to establish government and freedom to worship.

St. Peter's Chapel

Constructed in 1889, St. Peter's Chapel at 14590 Solomons Island Road South, Solomons, Maryland, represents over 300 years of Anglican tradition in Southern Maryland. Of simple wood construction with handsome lines and a cathedral ceiling, it faces Patuxent River, features stained glass windows, edge grain pine flooring and an unusual gate in the carved altar that is not hinged but has open-faced mortise tenon.

Click for a partial list of Church phone numbers.

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