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From The Archives Desk

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Why is there a special sink in the sacristy?


The ‘sacrarium’ is a special sink that has a drain directly to the ground to ensure the proper disposal of sacred elements. If you have ever been in the sacristy inside a Catholic church, the room set aside for preparing the liturgy, you may have noticed two sinks. One sink looks normal and has a faucet with normal plumbing. the same room, is a secondary sink. It often has a metal top that covers it and usually does not have a faucet.

This special sink was developed for the proper disposal of sacred elements. It has a drain that goes directly into the ground. In this way the natural elements are returned to the earth in a more dignified manner than if they were drained into a sewer where they would be mingled with sewage. One of the purposes of the sacrarium is to dispose of water that contains within it a dissolved consecrated Host.

Typically when a consecrated Host falls on the ground, it is consumed, though sometimes it is saved in the sacristy and put in a dish of water, and once the host has dissolved enough, the water is poured down the sacrarium.

Source: Philip Kosloski

St. Mary Baptismal Font


The Saint Mary Basilica Baptismal Font is an eight-sided structure made of Carrara marble. It was donated in 1930 by Msgr. John M. Prendergast, Natchez’s first native-born priest. He graciously donated this in memory of his parents.

The baptismal font in now located in the Blessed Mother altar area, but it was not always there. The Saint Mary Baptistery was originally in the small room adjacent to Saint Therese Hall at the basement elevator area. The font was moved to the sanctuary after Vatican ll (1962-1965). The original gate of the baptistery along with its dedication plaque now hangs on a wall in the Bishops Garden behind the Rectory.

Baptisms are currently being done in the Oratory of St. Joseph (the chapel) in Seton Hall on the Cathedral School campus while the church is closed for repairs and restoration.

Personal Memories of Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow


Bishop Gerow was a frequent visitor to our home when my brothers, James and Billy, and I were growing up in the 1940s. He and my great-uncle, James J. Cole (Uncle Jay), were good friends. Those were the days when you kissed a bishop’s ring upon greeting him. That ritual was a favorite of the three Cole children. As soon as the bishop entered our front door, we asked to kiss the ring. Read more

The Archives Committee is interested in anecdotes, short stories, and recollections of people and events about St. Mary Parish and Catholicism in Natchez. Oral history of the parish complements the printed word.

You may be the only person who can recall and relate a specific event, tell about a personality, or reveal pertinent historical information. All submitted material is subject to review and editing by the committee for publication on the archives web site.

Please share your information with the archives committee. (Material can be sent or delivered to the church office.)

View Our Past Articles From The Archives Desk

St. Mary’s Bell Tower Clock


The clock in the bell tower has been located at St. Mary’s since 1881. Patrick H. McGraw, native of County Down, Ireland, left $1,000 to the City of Natchez to erect a clock in the bell tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral. The City of Natchez accepted the bequest and added around $400 to put the clock into position in June 1881. “Ever since it tells the wayfarer the hour of the day and night and gently reminds of the thoughtful donor.” The City of Natchez kept the clock in good working order from June 1881 until 1959.

In June 1959 Rt. Rev. Msgr. Thomas Fullam requested the clock be electrified. The Mayor, Troy B. Watkins, The City of Natchez, and The Board of Alderman signed a resolution stating it is in best interest of the City of Natchez to dispose of said old clock and thereby avoid any further liability for maintenance and operation. The resolution was signed on June 9, 1959. It also resolved and ordered that the aforesaid clock be given to St. Mary Cathedral upon the condition that said Cathedral will electrify the same and henceforth be solely responsible for its maintenance and operation.

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Thomas Fullam corresponded with the I.T. Verdin Co. to electrify the clock. The president of the company stated they would attempt to have the clock ready and back in operation by the end of October 1959.

The clock is still located in St. Mary’s bell tower. In July 2021, the striker was repaired; and with the help of the Cathedral football coach and players, it was carried up the tower. Three times during the day when the clock strikes 6:00 AM, Noon, & 6:00 PM, the bell rings for the Angelus.

St. Mary’s Cathedral Narrowly Escapes Destruction by Fire


Narrowly Escapes Destruction by Fire – Heroic Work of Some of Our Young Men–Damage About $200.

St. Mary's Cathedral, one of the largest, handsomest and most imposing church edifices in the city of Natchez, had a very narrow escape from destruction by fire yesterday morning, between twelve and one o'clock, and had it not been for the timely discovery of the flames by Police Officer Stevens that beautiful structure might now be lying in ruins. … Read more

From The Archives


The main focal point as someone enters St. Mary Basilica is the painting behind the main altar, “The Crucifixion.” This painting has had four versions since 1882.

The original painting was commissioned in 1882 by Bishop Janssens to have artist A. Biorci paint an adaptation of Guido Reni’s classical painting “The Crucifixion. “ This picture was painted within a frame on the back wall behind the main altar. This original painting included four other figures, besides Mary, standing at the foot of the cross. The painting below on left is the 1880’s original. (Cradle Days - back section - p. 10)

In 1888, Bishop Janssens signed a contract with E. Humbrecht of Cincinnati to fresco the whole interior, put on other painting behind altar, fresco all three altars, the reredos, confessionals, and pulpit for $2400.00. (Cradle Days - back section - p.17)

In 1931, Bishop R. O. Gerow began another renovation of the church. The Crucifixion picture, which had been painted on the plastered wall, had in the course of time chipped or peeled so badly that it could not be properly restored. An imposing portrait of Christ with his Sorrowful Mother dominated the sanctuary—an adaptation of Guido Reni’s classical painting. The added figures in Reni’s painting and in the Cathedral original had been painted out to emphasize Our Lady of Sorrows, the Cathedral’s patron. (P. 583 of St Mary’s of Natchez, Vol. 2)

In 1957. Msgr. Thomas Fullam, pastor at St. Mary, began another renovation of the church. Both interior and exterior were repainted and all statuary was redone. Italian artist Navino Nataloni supervised the interior painting. The present painting of “The Crucifixion “over the main altar is signed by Navino Nataloni and is dated 1957. It is painted on canvas and glued to the wall.

St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee is in need of a picture of the interior of the church which has the picture in it from 1931 to 1956. If anyone can help, please contact the church office. Crucifixion Painting

(Left) 1880s original painting over main altar in St. Mary. (Right) Current painting over main altar in St. Mary.

From The Archives


The restoration of St. Mary Basilica after the damage of the ice storm in February 2021 is underway. This is the latest challenge for the church in Natchez.

The first challenge occurred when Winthrop Sargeant, governor the Natchez Territory, raised the ques- tion of seizing the Catholic Church (San Salvador del Mundo) and converting it into a courthouse based on puritanical ideas about amusements on Sunday. He restrained because he realized it might hurt the feelings of Catholics and offend the king of Spain. … Read more

Corbel Heads in St. Mary Basilica


Corbels originally carved from stone were intended to support an architectural element. In St Mary, however, they are plaster and strictly decorative. They are part of the ornamental plaster works installed in 1858-1859 during the completion of the interior … Read more

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The 19th Century Gothic Crucifix


Referred to as the Bishop John J. Chanche crucifix, it was discovered in the crypt of the basilica hanging high on the wall out of sight, heavily wrapped in plastic. It was “broken and bruised” with old, unprofessional repairs. During a tour for the St Mary Basilica Archive committee, Betsy Holleman was so moved to express that her family would like to have it restored. By coincidence the Conrad Schmidtt firm in Wisconsin, which had restored the interior of the basilica in 2001, was restoring the cathedral in Jackson and offered to take on the restoration, and the rest is history… Read more

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The Stations of the Cross in St. Mary


The Stations of the Cross currently adorning the walls of St. Mary Basilica were donated by a group of families according to St Mary’s Parish Accounts, 1865-1891, 82 and insert. These parish families were Kiernan, Payne, O’Connell, Quegles, Botto, Noonan, Lambert, Hogan, Boyle, O’Conley, Sweet, Grillo, Arrighi, and Elward. The Sunday School children also made a contribution.

These Stations of the Cross replaced earlier ones. The first Stations were installed in the 1860s by Bishop William Henry Elder. They were simple crosses.

The second Stations of the Cross in the Basilica were removed and discarded or donated to another church in need as is customary when replacements are installed.

Like the statues and other objects in the Basilica, the Stations of the Cross were refurbished by Conrad Schmidt Studios after the straight line winds damaged the church in 1998.

The Stations of the Cross are visual reminders of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, especially during Lent when parishioners join together to pray.

Through the years, St. Mary Basilica has been blessed with extraordinary generosity of members who have furnished and maintained the church for future generations.

Corpus Christi


The feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) is celebrated to commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
One of ten holy days of obligation in the Latin church, the feast day falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. However, in some countries, including the United States, the feast has been moved from Thursday to the following Sunday. This year Corpus Christi falls on June 15 but will be celebrated on June 18 in St. Mary Basilica… Read more

Annie Skehan Gerow


Annie Skehan Gerow mother of Richard O. Gerow seventh bishop of Natchez was born 15 January 1854. In Bishop Gerow’s book Catholicity in Mississippi it is recorded that his mother Annie was born in County Tipperary Ireland, although the 1880 federal census and the 1900 federal census show that she and her siblings, Lizzie, Mary, Delia and Richard were born in New York… Read more

The Visitors


The Archives Committee of Saint Mary Basilica hosted a special group of visitors on April 1, 2017. Three sisters and 18 associates of the Society of the Holy… Read more

Blessing the Gabriel Gireaudeau cover stone


On July 12, 2016, Father Leopold Keffler, O.F. M. Conv., blessed the grave stone of Gabriel Gireaudeau that was returned in June 2016 to it original location… Read more

St. Mary's Orphan Asylum for Girls


Bishop John Joseph Chanche, S.S. arrived at Natchez on May 18, 1841. As spiritual father he knew provisions must be made to care for orphans. He arranged… Read more

St. Mary Basilica Archives tour of St. Mary Chapel


View photos and read the excerpt from The Unhurried Years: Memories of the Old Natchez Region by Pierce Butler (1948)… Read more

The Maria Alexandrina


St. Mary Basilica, the mother church of Mississippi Catholicism is blessed with many beautiful treasures, the magnificent stained glass windows, carrara marble… Read more

Student Discovers Lithograph of Archbishop Elder


Archbishop William Henry Elder has returned to his beloved bishopric in Natchez, Mississippi. The lithograph was discovered by James Walters of Holy Angels Catholic Church in Sidney, Ohio.

James is in the eleventh grade of Riverside High School in DeGraff, and "is big into history", says his dad, Rod Walters. "He had been researching our own church history when he spotted the lithograph of Elder sitting on the floor of an antique shop covered with dirt daubers".

The young Walters recognized Archbishop Elder who founded his church of the Holy Angel. After discovering St. Mary Basilica Archives web site and the link to the Bishops of Natchez, James decided to donate the picture to St. Mary Basilica.

The lithograph (after repairs) will hang in the old baptistry of the basilica where the stature of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is displayed--a gift of Archbishop Elder in 1883.

The memory of Bishop Elder is precious to the diocese as a result of the hardships he and his clergy suffered during the Civil War. He served the diocese from 1857 to 1880… More about Bishop Elder

The Holy Water Fonts in St. Mary Basilica


After one hundred and fifty years the memory and significance of the two beautiful holy water fonts on the left and right entrance, have been lost in time along… Read more

St. Mary Basilica Archives Honored


The Historic Natchez Foundation honored the Archives Committee of St. Mary Basilica with the Mary Postlethwaite History Award at the annual meeting on… Read more

D’Evereux Hall, Natchez, Mississippi


In August of 1854, Bishop Jacques Van de Velde, SJ, of Natchez, Mississippi, visited Bay St. Louis where he met several Brothers of the Sacred Heart and… Read more

A Brief Biography


Louis Stanislaus Marie Buteux was born in Paris, July 2, 1808, into a well established Catholic family. The Buteux family of France had given a martyr to the… Read more

St. Thérèse Chapel (Donated by A. W. Berdon 1936)


This dedication is on a small bronze plaque that has recently been reinstalled in St. Thérèse Hall. When you enter the hall look on the left wall. Thank you… Read more

The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin


What's in a name? Plenty, when it concerns the dogma of the Catholic Church. Recent research of the large painting of Mary in the rectory parlor… Read more

History of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church


An Italian from Vicksburg, a man named Tirelli, who worked for the large plantation owners as an agent, conceived the idea of introducing Italian peasant farmers… Read More



I would like to thank the St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee for inviting me to share some thoughts on their web site. I have always been very interested in history… Read More

St. Mary’s Archives: A Personal Recollection


My first visit to the St. Mary’s in Natchez was in early October of 1975. As part of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ gift to the nation in honor of the upcoming… Read More

Nicolas Nicollet and the Reverend Pierce Connelly in Natchez


Two brilliant men encountered each other in Natchez, Mississippi, in the early 1830s. Most likely they met at a social gathering in the home of Major Henry… Read More

Gilbert's Place: 1818-2009, Jefferson County, Mississippi


God certainly knows where Gilbert’s Place is because He sent some special people there to live and many that came to minister to the people. The home… Read more

Accomplishments, Donations and Discoveries


St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee was founded on 24 October 2005. It evolved out of the Religious Education Committee. We meet every Tuesday morning after Mass… Read More

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Stained glass panel above the sacristy door
In Memory of Mary Agnes Burns Frye

Lithograph on stone - St. Mary Cathedral