Going Inside: St. Michael’s Church, Biloxi

I recently bought a couple of postcards showing the interior of St. Michael’s Church in Biloxi, and it reminded me that I had taken a few pictures inside myself a while back when I was down on the Coast. If you’ve ever driven down Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard) in Biloxi, you’ve seen St. Michaels, its distinctive round shape and oyster-shell roof drawing your eyes away from the road. The building was constructed in 1964 and designed by Jackson architect James T. Canizaro, whose firm is still going a couple of generations later.

ST. MICHAEL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI. A symbolic edifice for the seafaring peoples of Biloxis colorful Point Cadet section. This church serves a parish that is mainly populated with French and Salvadorian descendants with generations of labor in the seafood industry. St. Michael's circular church has a unique scallop-shell roofing and is also noted fo its fine stained glass windows and quaint baptistry.

St. Michael’s was badly damaged by the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina, which washed out the building up to eight or nine feet high. Much of its surrounding neighborhood on the Point was completely washed away and has struggled to rebuild. But St. Michael’s, unlike many other churches on the beach, made a decision to rebuild and repair rather than abandon their community and build a new church up north on I-10.

St. Michael's Catholic Church, Biloxi (photo Sept 2005)

"Altar" by Daquella Manera (Flickr). St. Michael's after Katrina washed through.

You might have wondered whether the building was as interesting inside as it is on the outside? The answer is a resounding YES! Thin vertical stained-glass windows surround the visitor, filling the interior space with a deep dark glow. The Modernist windows were designed by the Emil Frei Company, of St. Louis, one of those great long-lasting artistic companies that was able to come back after Katrina and repair the windows using the original drawings. I think they might have also created some new glasswork, especially in the vestibule, but also some beautiful panels within the sanctuary (that unfortunately I couldn’t really capture in a picture because of the low light when I was there).

As I stood in the middle of the church, with the tall human figures staring down on my from all sides, I was reminded of the “great cloud of witnesses” from Hebrews 12:1: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Next time you’re speeding down Highway 90 in Biloxi, take time to stop in to appreciate this modern but expressionist church.

ST. MICHAEL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, Biloxi, Miss. The congregation sits in circular pews fanning out from the altar. Support for the main altar is a 2 1/2-ton rock from the Hill of Calvary. The motif: fish, water, nets, in the stained glass windows, identifies with the antecedents of the parish . . . the fishing industry.

ST. MICHAEL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, BILOXI, MISS. The Corpus and Cross over the High Altar are samples of the creative art works used througout the church by regional artists. Sculptress Lin Emery designed the bronze Body of Chris; Mr. Jean Seidenberg created the gold leafed steel Cross.

St. Michael's after repair and restoration, 2011



Categories: Architectural Research, Biloxi, Churches

10 replies

  1. I’d love to return to Biloxi with my camera if only to capture the light as you describe it here. I last saw this fascinating building in 2006, but that was only the exterior. As you note, the interior is really special- even more so with the light streaming through those windows!

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  2. So different church than we have in Finland. Beautiful.

    Have a wonderful day!

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  3. When we moved to Biloxi in 1979, we actually had to camp in Ocean Springs while we waited for base housing to open up. I rode past this church everyday while taking my siblings to school. I BEGGED my parents to let us go to church there! I thought it was the neatest building I’d ever seen. However, I suppose the fact that we were Southern Baptists put a damper on that :)

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    • Sorry you missed the opportunity. Jesus was waiting for you there, just like He waits for you to open up the door to your Baptist heart to let Him in. He waits for us to open the door with whatever heart we have, and let Him in. Church buildings often are depictions of how a people express their beliefs and/or their faith to God, where they come together to worship, communicste, learn and lay down their burdens and concerns…it’s a place of expression…not a place to fear. At lea5dt that is my opinion of any and all churches opened in the name of Jesus Christ.

      I plan on visiting the church to say s rosary gor my Catholic aunt. I was raised Catholic but joined into the Baptist faith after 15 years of marriage and going to 2 churches every Sunday. My husband is Baptist and was a visitor when he would attend Mass with me but I always joined in tbe service when I attended service with him. I am comfortable in any church tbay had neen opened in thr name of Jesus Christ. I eill eithet meey Jesud there ir bring Him with me in my heart.

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  4. Thank you for this beautiful respite from a frantic day in the office – I can’t wait to go there and sit myself.

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  5. I remember being inside of it in September 2005 as an aid worker and thinking how I wish I could have seen it before the hurricane. I was today looking at pictures from 2005, and decided to see how the church fared since. I’m so delighted that it has been lovingly restored. I hope it is a beacon of community in the recovering area.

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  6. This church is so important to my family my husband grew up in this church. My first time in a Catholic church was there. Our 9 year old son became Catholic in this church as well. Katrina wiped our home out, so we moved. We attend another Catholic church now. We never forget our spiritual roots. Our son is in Catholic school. We love St. Michael.

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  7. St Michael Catholic is truly a spiritual and architectural experience. St Michael recently opened it’s doors for prayer and tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 12 Noon until 3PM. All are welcome for prayer or a guided or self guided tour of this beautiful church.

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  8. An awesome design. Glad parishioners made the decision to rebuild. The church is so reflective of the fishing industry there. The silhouette of St. Michael with his sword held high is striking at sunset.

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