The Most Unique Church Buildings in Northern Virginia: A Look at the Basilica of Saint Mary

As an expert on churches in Northern Virginia, I have had the opportunity to visit and study many beautiful and historic buildings. Each one has its own unique charm and character, but there is one church that stands out among the rest for its one-of-a-kind architecture and rich history - the Basilica of Saint Mary.

The Basilica of Saint Mary

Located in Alexandria, Virginia, the Basilica of Saint Mary is not only the oldest Catholic Church in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but also the first Catholic parish established in the United States. It was founded in 1795 by French immigrants who fled their country during the French Revolution. The original church building was a simple wooden structure, but as the congregation grew, a larger and more permanent building was needed.

In 1826,

construction began on the current church building, which was designed by renowned architect James Hoban - the same architect who designed the White House.

The Basilica of Saint Mary is a stunning example of neoclassical architecture, with its grand columns, intricate details, and iconic dome. It is often referred to as the "Mother Church of Northern Virginia" and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The Unique Features

What sets the Basilica of Saint Mary apart from other churches in Northern Virginia are its unique features that are not commonly found in traditional church buildings. One of these features is the rotunda, a circular room located at the front of the church. This space is used for special events and ceremonies and is adorned with beautiful stained glass windows and a stunning mural depicting the Assumption of Mary.

The dome

is another standout feature of the Basilica of Saint Mary.

Standing at 156 feet tall, it is the tallest dome in Northern Virginia and can be seen from miles away. The dome is made of cast iron and is painted to resemble marble, giving it a grand and regal appearance.

The bell tower

is also a unique aspect of the church. It stands at 132 feet tall and houses a set of 10 bells that were cast in France and installed in 1829. These bells are still rung today for special occasions and events.

The History

Aside from its stunning architecture, the Basilica of Saint Mary also has a rich history that adds to its uniqueness. During the Civil War, the church served as a hospital for wounded soldiers, and the basement was used as a morgue.

The church also played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech there in 1963. Over the years, the Basilica of Saint Mary has undergone several renovations and expansions to accommodate its growing congregation. In 2006, a new addition was built, which includes a chapel, meeting rooms, and offices. Despite these changes, the church has managed to maintain its original charm and character.

The Community

Aside from being a place of worship, the Basilica of Saint Mary is also known for its strong sense of community.

The church hosts various events and programs throughout the year, including concerts, festivals, and outreach programs. It also has an active volunteer program that helps those in need in the local community.

The Basilica of Saint Mary

is not just a church building; it is a symbol of faith, history, and community. Its unique architecture and rich history make it a must-visit for anyone in Northern Virginia, regardless of their religious beliefs. It is a testament to the enduring power of faith and the importance of preserving our history and heritage.


In a region filled with beautiful churches, the Basilica of Saint Mary stands out as the most unique in Northern Virginia.

Its stunning neoclassical architecture, one-of-a-kind features, and rich history make it a true gem in the community. Whether you are a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply looking for a place to connect with your faith, the Basilica of Saint Mary is a must-visit destination.

Roger Tasson
Roger Tasson

Amateur musicaholic. Certified internet fan. Avid travel expert. Evil sushi fanatic. Freelance music enthusiast. Avid pizza lover.

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