“From the Archives” A Requiem Mass for Pope Pius IX in 1878

On February 7, 1878 – 142 years ago – Pope Pius IX died in Rome. He was the longest serving elected pope in Church history, serving for more than 31 years.

A Requiem Mass was held in his honor here at Saint Mary. For three days, the parish prepared drapery for the solemn occasion. The exterior of the church was draped with festoons of black over the main entrance. Papal and American flags were placed over the doorway, also draped in black. Elaborate hangings covered the inside of the church. The galleries were draped with black, heavy folds, secured with white bands and purple rosettes. The columns supporting the galleries were shrouded in similar material. The windows were covered with black. The entire church was enveloped in an air of gloom.

The sanctuary was adorned with black hangings in heavy folds, with long pendants, all radiating from the keystone of the arch, on which was placed a large silver cross. The drapery here was relieved by white bands and purple rosettes. The marble altar and its large candlesticks, and the side altars, were draped in purple and white (the papal colors). The pulpit was heavily draped in black cloth trimmed with silver fringe.

A catafalque was placed in front of the altar rail, with two cloth covers, one red and the other purple. Atop this was a casket covered with white cloth trimmed in gold fringe. At the head of the casket was a cross covered with flowers on a crimson ground, representing the Papal Court. The whole thing was surrounded by lighted candles, as was the darkened church. With all those candles and draperies, it’s a miracle they didn’t burn the church down!

The congregation for the Mass was standing room only, one of the largest ever seen in Alexandria. No homily was preached. Members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society ushered and kept order. Saint Mary’s bells tolled from 12 to 3:00 pm and the draperies were ordered to remain for 30 days, or until a new pope was elected.

– Kitty Guy, Parish Historian

Throughout 2020, the Basilica of Saint Mary will present “From the Archives.” It is a weekly feature online and in our bulletin spotlighting the history of the parish. All of our “From the Archives” features are located here

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