Jim M. Kilvington
St. Mary's Seminary Chapel
600, Paca St., N., Baltimore, Baltimore City
St. Mary's Seminary Chapel is a gable roofed structure, three bays wide, four bays deep, and 1 1/2 stories high. It is set on a high basement with round arched windows set into regular insets. The small brick chapel is slightly less than 90' long and 70' wide. It would appear that the chapel incorporates the structure of an earlier building, and that the Neo-Gothic design of the architect was forced to fit it. The three bay west facade has a central entrance doorway reached by a flight of stone steps. On either side of the double doors are engaged columns in molded brick carrying a Gothic arch with a keystone. The transom is not glazed but is a wooden panel with a trefoil design. On either side of the front entrance, in positions shown occupied by windows in the architect's drawings, are two niches with Gothic arches, which are intended for sculpture. An elaborate Neo-Gothic false front is virtually stuck onto the nave. Above the stucco cornice of the facade is a high rectangular brick parapet with a central circular window flanked by blind arcades, a structure which masks the gable end of the chapel roof. To stabilize the parapet, brick flying buttresses from the side walls of the nave support it from the back. On either side of the main block of the west front are two low spur elements, nearly square in plan. They both have arched entrances front and rear, and a window bay in the end elevation. The west elevation of the transepts have crenelated mock battlements to hide the sloping shed roof behind. The side elevation walls have brick buttresses between the three window bays, and basement windows with flat jack arches underneath the first two nave window bays. In plan, the central space of the chapel is composed of the nave, which is lit by three window bays on either side. The molded brick enframements of these windows have been added. The side aisles are divided from the nave by narrowly spaced Neo-Gothic columns. The nine bays and eight columns, arranged on this module, allow the windows to be centered on every third bay. The sanctuary with a semicircular apse is separated from the nave by three steps. The change in module between the sanctuary and the nave is marked by a pair of engaged columns on either side. Flanking the sanctuary are the north and south transept. The first three bays of the nave carry the balcony over the west entrance.
St. Mary's Seminary Chapel was the first Neo-Gothic church built in the U.S. The juxtaposition of unrelated architectural forms within the bizarre design of the small brick church is accounted for by the apparent necessity of incorporating an earlier structure. The chapel was constructed between 1806 and 1808 by Maximilien Godefroy. Designed for the Sulpician priests of St. Mary's Seminary, at one point the building also housed services for Negro French Catholics who had fled San Domingo during the 1791-1803 revolution of Touissant L'Ouverture.