The Sanctuary and the major portion of the present day church were erected in 1826 in the Gothic Revival architectural style. Since that time, the clergy and the faithful have undertaken several major renovations of the Church of Saint Mary throughout her history.
The first of the major renovations and expansion of the church occurred in 1881 and 1895, in preparation for the centenary celebration of the Parish founding. The second major renovation occurred after a devastating church fire from a lightning strike in 1929. In the 1980s and 1990s, renovations occurred in response to some of the changes after the Second Vatican Council. In 2012, the parish completed the most recent restoration of the historic character of the Sanctuary.
Visitors enter the church through one of eight handsomely carved, solid mahogany doors, an 1895 gift to the parish from a captain and consignees of a merchant ship that brought mahogany from Honduras. These doors are a connection to the City of Alexandria (1749) and its long history as the Port City, a distinction it shares with the Port of Georgetown (1789), now part of Washington, D.C., both of which pre-date the founding of the United States national capital, Washington, D.C. (1790).
The Belfry Tower
Between 1857 and 1877, Reverend Father John Blox engaged builders to expand the church. The project added a 133-foot belfry, then the highest point in Alexandria. It exceeded the height of the clock tower in Market Square, where Alexandria City Hall is located, less than four city blocks from the Church.
During the renovations of 1895, changes were also made to the façade by the young architect and parishioner, Mr. Philip N. Dwyer. His designs changed the entire façade on South Royal Street by creating the 140-foot South Belfry Tower, as it appears today. In 1896, Reverend Father Henry J. Cutler added the smaller 70-foot North Tower that houses the spiral stairwell to the Choir Loft.
The façade and both towers of the Church of Mary have been constructed of Illinois limestone, believed to have come from that same source as the limestone used for the construction of the buildings at Georgetown University.
Major Church Appointments:
- Year the church was built: The cornerstone of the church was laid on July 19, 1826. The initial construction was completed in 1827.
- Dedication of the Altar: Installation and consecration of the current Tabernacle and Main Altar (with the installation of the relics) by the Most Reverend Francis Patrick Kendrick, D.D., Sixth Archbishop of Baltimore, on June 30, 1856.