PHOENIX — Constructed over a century ago, St. Mary’s Basilica is the oldest Catholic church in Phoenix.
The outside of the church was designed in Old Mission Style Revival, however, the inside is Romanesque with columns, pillars, arches, domes, and the largest collection of stained glass windows in Arizona.
“Welcome to St. Mary's Basilica, also known as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Virgin Mary,” said Brother Scott Slattum, director of faith development. “It is quite beautiful inside. When you come here to visit and the sun is shining through, you can see the beautiful details. The basilica is known for its historical, cultural, artistic, and spiritual nature."
The church was originally established in 1881 as s 60x40 Adobe church. They outgrew it and in 1903, the Franciscan friars, which were the same friars that built the 21 California missions and missions around the southwest, built the lower church, or sometimes you'll hear people refer to it as “the basement church.”
When enough money was raised, they took off the roof of the lower church and built it up, finishing construction in 1915. What you see today is actually “the upper church.”
The beautiful Gothic stained glass windows were designed by German immigrant, Emil Frei from the Munich School of Stained Glass Art.
"They take sheets of glass and they paint the designs onto the glass. But the paints have various oxidized metals in it,” said Slattum. “So once they've painted their scenes, they put it in like a kiln and apply heat to it. That paint penetrates the entire piece of glass. And so consequently, you get just exquisite detail from these stained glass windows.”
Pope John Paul II declared St. Mary’s a basilica in 1985 and later visited the Valley in 1987.
"And you can still come here and kneel at the kneeler he knelt that,” said Slattum. “And then he stood on the balcony, greeting the masses and gave an official speech to the city of Phoenix."
The organ, which features amazing acoustics, is also named after Pope John Paul II.
A lot of the city of Phoenix’s history is wrapped up in St. Mary’s Basilica. Organize a docent tour and tailor your experience to what you want to learn more about.
St. Mary’s Basilica is located at 231 N 3rd St, Phoenix, AZ. Click here for more information.
Editor's note: Our thoughts go out to the family of Scott Slattum; Slattum passed away from a heart attack shortly after filming this story.