St. Mary’s Basilica (exterior and interior), Natchez – (1842-86, with later alterations) Officially known as St. Mary Cathedral until attaining minor basilica status in 1998. Like most, if not all, cathedrals throughout history, St. Mary Basilica took decades to complete; forty-four years passed between the laying of the cornerstone in 1842 and the church’s consecration in 1886 (making St. Mary similar to the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, Alabama, which was constructed from 1835-84). The first mass in St. Mary Basilica was the traditional Midnight Mass, Christmas 1843; yet, it would be nearly eleven years, in 1854, before St. Mary received its slate roof, during which time it was placed up for auction briefly due to debts incurred by the Diocese of Natchez. James Hardie (sometimes spelled Hardy), a Scottish-born eccentric and master builder, supervised the construction on St. Mary during the 1840s, but through the research of the Historic Natchez Foundation, we now know that the building was designed by noted Baltimore architect Robert Cary Long, Jr. Irish-born builder Peter Warner finished the interior plasterwork and floors from 1858-59. After being “completed” and becoming debt-free, St. Mary was consecrated in 1886, while in the midst of a nine-year project to install a set of Austrian stained-glass windows. The Twentieth Century saw various changes to St. Mary, but the interior remains richly ornamented.
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