Saturday, September 10, 2016

St. Mary's City Catholic Church

Few buildings would ever hold as important a symbolic place as this one.  It was rebuilt on the original site to the specifications discovered in painstakingly exploring it's remnant parts.  Maryland has long been taught in history books to elementary school children as the colony founded on religious tolerance because a Protestant king gave Catholics a charter to establish it.  As in most things, the truth is far less generous.  Whatever initial freedoms of worship Maryland's Catholic community experienced, they were short-lived and centered around this parish.  (by 1704 the church was padlocked and open practice of Papist religion was banned and persecuted as a cultural norm.)
 Today the church (which is unconsecrated by design) sits in the middle of a field.  It's appearance is based on other churches built at the time--no actual plans or descriptions exist.  It fits the footprint of the original build which dictates the scale, and archeological evidence suggests other aspects like the materials used for the roof, the presence and placement of windows.

 One of the most interesting aspects of this building is that face that it is surrounded by graves.  Three of them were within the walls of the structure and prompted one of the most interesting and extensive historical research projects ever undertaken.  Under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and leadership of forensic anthropologist, Doug Owsley, the discovery of a crypt with three bodies of note in it and their identification became quite a cause celeb in their world of historical forensic anthropology throughout the 90's.

As fate would have it, I participated in a Smithsonian sponsored project for teachers of Social Studies in the mid-1990's and one day was given to our meeting and working with Doug Owsley.  He had the skull of one of the members of St. Mary's three in his lab at the time and we were privileged to examine it up close and personal as he lectured us one what we had learned about this discovery.  All of the remains have since be reinterred in the crypt below this building.  Owsley's life is the inspiration for the TV series "Bones," as an aside.

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