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Rebuilt Chapel Opens Doors Onto Maryland's Colonial Past

Reenactors and others approach the rebuilt Brick Chapel in Historic St. Mary's City, which was opened last weekend. The original was built in 1667.
Reenactors and others approach the rebuilt Brick Chapel in Historic St. Mary's City, which was opened last weekend. The original was built in 1667. (By Christy Goodman -- The Washington Post)

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By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

St. Mary's County Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron unlocked the pine and oak doors of the rebuilt Brick Chapel last weekend in Historic St. Mary's City, reversing the actions of the county's first sheriff, who locked the original doors under orders of the royal governor in 1704.

After living side by side with Catholics for years under the rule of the Calvert family, Protestants in the colony of Maryland led a revolution against the third Lord Baltimore, Charles Calvert, in 1689.

England appointed royal governors who moved the colony's capital to Annapolis in 1695, and under "An Act to Prevent the Growth of Popery within this Province," the Brick Chapel and other Catholic schools and churches were locked nine years later.

"It is nice to have the sheriff here with us and thank him for this time opening the church," Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl told the nearly 200 people gathered in front of the chapel Sunday.

Wuerl said that the unlocking of the rebuilt $3.2 million chapel, after about 15 years of fundraising and historically accurate construction, was a historic moment and that people should take pride in the settlers' "vision and their foresight and their courage." The settlers worked to "establish a society, a civil community, in which everyone is free to worship who they chose," he said.

The rebuilt structure is a "visible, tangible testimony to the great human, inalienable right that comes to us simply because we are alive," he said.

Jesuits built a wooden chapel first, not long after the Ark and the Dove ship brought 150 settlers to Maryland in 1634. That chapel burned down in 1645. The Calvert family took charge of Maryland in 1660 with the restoration of King Charles II and, in 1667, built a brick Roman Catholic chapel.

After the Brick Chapel was locked, Mass was held in the priest's house nearby. But the Jesuits dismantled the chapel so that the bricks could be used to build a manor house at the St. Inigoes mission. They sold the property, which also had a cemetery, to a farmer, William Hicks.

"The first time I saw it, it actually brought tears to my eyes," said the Rev. Edward Dougherty of St. Ignatius Church in Port Tobacco. He described the settlers' actions as "the experiment that was derailed a bit but has never stopped and has grown to what it is today."

Silas D. Hurry, curator and director of the archaeological laboratory at Historic St. Mary's City, said that great efforts were made to reconstruct the chapel as it was built in 1667. The current chapel stands on the foundation of the original, which is five feet deep.

The bricks were created from local clay and hand-carved to hold mortar to give the appearance of stone. He said the outside appearance was fashioned based on texts of Jesuit structures of the time.

Peter Himmelheber, a blacksmith and a docent for History St. Mary's City, used tobacco tools to create the four-foot-tall cross on top of the church. He said he scrounged iron from various places to forge the hinges and locks for the doors.


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