Going Inside: St. Joseph Catholic Church and its Blue Glow

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Port Gibson (1849, John Foley, archt.)

It’s a nice coincidence that in the same week as an update on Jackson’s First Christian Church we should look at the interior of Port Gibson’s St. Joseph Catholic Church. Built almost exactly 100 years apart, these two buildings might be supposed to have nothing in common. In fact, they share one characteristic, besides their Gothic Revival style, that only reveals itself when you walk inside. That characteristic, which almost knocks you in the face when you open the door, is cobalt blue stained-glass windows so vivid that the air inside the churches turns into a purple haze.

I should re-phrase that to say that “at one time they shared a characteristic,” because the sad truth is that due to the inexplicable breakage of the lower three-fourths of the windows in First Christian Church a few years ago, First Christian has lost its distinctive glow, with only the upper remnants trying to display what was once a glorious sight. I’m so thankful that I was able to see First Christian when it still had its windows,  and I’m sad that I’ll never be able to pass on that experience to Jackson visitors. But if you want to get a taste of what the space felt like, head down to Port Gibson when St. Joseph’s is open and go inside. The purple haze is so thick in the small sanctuary that it seems to have real weight, whereas the glow in the much larger First Christian had more of an airy quality, while still seeming surreal and not of this world.

St. Joseph’s was built in 1849, back when Gothic Revival had actual doctrinal meaning. In addition to the blue windows, St. Joseph’s interior has some impressive carved woodwork that is worth the trip. Plan to be amazed and stand quietly for a while.

As with First Presbyterian Church, profiled a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the congregation of St. Joseph’s for maintaining this beautiful and historic building and for sharing it with visitors!

Categories: Architectural Research, Churches, Port Gibson

14 replies

  1. On a tangent and aside, St Joseph’s was also known at one time, allegedly, as “Bowie Church”. Rezin Pleasant Bowie, the creator of the Bowie Knife and the brother of the James Bowie who died at the Alamo, is buried there. See
    http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbo46 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rezin_Bowie and http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=18250482 A daughter donated the land.

    Some sort of restoration fund drive is apparently afoot. http://opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com/2011/10/beloved-historic-port-gibson.html The altar is said to be hand carved. http://www.cardcow.com/64573/saint-josephs-church-port-gibson-mississippi/ A multi-state company is undertaking restoration. http://www.durablerestoration.com/clients-prominent.html

    One wonders about whether the much-remarked upon blue light was viewed as a way of relief, by separating one’s thoughts from the day to day world outside, a world which included dealing with large famlies, infant mortality and, among other diseases, yellow fever. http://claibornecountyms.org/yellow1878.html


  2. Awesome set of photos. Blue is my favorite color, maybe it is why I love Your photos. My favorite is second photo.


  3. It’s amazing what a little color will do to change our perception of the world. Yet people are so afraid of it! A relatively simple device like stained glass can create an otherworldly effect in a building, yet we almost never use stained glass in our buildings today- with the possible exception of churches. Color remains suspect and is indeed often prohibited by covenant. What a pity…I think the congregation here had the right idea!


  4. As I said on my blog, wow. I’ve been inside First Pres down there since I was a small child but yet never went inside St. Joseph’s. I’m going in there next time I’m through Port Gibson.


  5. The two buildings are interesting comparisons, but I especially like the way both of their interiors epitomize the two doctrinal positions: First Presbyterian: serene, classic, confident; St. Joseph: mysterious, quiet, contemplative.


  6. The St. Joseph Catholic Church is indeed about to begin a restoration project thanks to the contributions of many wonderful friends and concerned citizens, and the fund raising efforts of my Mother Shirley Daigle. Due to these contributions we were able to obtain fund matching from the Catholic Diocese. The roof is leaking terribly and doing vast water damage as seen in the picture of the choir loft. Contributions can still be made to St. Joseph Catholic Church Building Fund c/o Father Faustin P.O Box 1012 Port Gibson, MS 39150.

    The church was built by Elvie Moore, the daughter of Rezin Bowie. They are both buried in the Catholic Cemetery. If I remember correctly, Elvie wanted to build her own church so that her slaves could attend. She started a fund raising campaign amongst her friends that embarrassed her husband so he gave her the money to build it. The altar rails were carved by the architect John Foley’s son Daniel. I believe he was only 16 at the time.


  7. Thank you, Mr. Daigle, for the information, and of course extend thanks to your mother for her efforts. This is timely and important information.


  8. as my wife and I were passing through Port Gibson one sunny morning a few years ago. We stepped inside St Joseph and WOW what a profound religous experience. We had to come back several years later just to see if it was really for real.


  9. I’d love to feature your photos on our Youtube page similar in style to this video https://youtu.be/YCj5fAZK_z0

    Just send us the full resolution photos and let us know how you would like to be credited at the end of the video and we can include a link to the website of your choice. This church is so stunning and we’d really love to feature it on our page. Thank you! amazingplacesofworship@gmail.com


  10. Gorgeous photos of a magnificent church.



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