St. Peter Catholic Church -- Memphis, TN
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Benchmark Blasterz
N 35° 08.856 W 090° 02.937
15S E 768844 N 3893399
Quick Description: St. Peter Catholic Church in downtown Memphis is on the US National Register of Historic Places, it is also listed as a contributing building to the Adams Avenue national register historic District
Location: Tennessee, United States
Date Posted: 4/2/2015 1:38:01 PM
Waymark Code: WMNM86
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 2

Long Description:
St. Peter's Catholic Church in downtown Memphis Tennessee's the first Catholic Church in Memphis. Established by Irish immigrants to the city in 1840, the parish is celebrating their 175th anniversary this year (2015).

St. Peter's parishoners met in a small church which had been built in 1842. The land was given by a local Protestant landowner, who caught a lot of flak for his gift. Very soon thereafter, it was clear that a MUCH larger church was needed. Instead of demolishing the first St. Peter's church and building the new St. Peter's on the cleared site, the new St Peter's sanctuary was built around the original church, so that the first church was completely inside the new St. Peters sanctuary. Then that first church was disassembled inside and carried out to the front door piece by piece.

Today white Christmas lights strung between pillars in the interior of St Peter's sanctuary marks the location of that first church.

Blasterz were here on a Sunday between Masses. Mama Blaster and her BIG camera caught the attention of a deacon, who graciously took time to show us around the church and related its early history to us (it's how we know about the community reaction to the 1842 gift of land for the first church, for example). He also showed us the non-public area behind the nave, where monuments and memorials to the various Franciscan fathers who have staffed this church since 1840 are located.

From the brochure the Deacon gave us at the Church:

"St. Peter Catholic Church is the oldest parish in the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, and the second oldest church building in Memphis. The parish was established in 1840, just one year after the first Catholic Mass was celebrated in the parlor of the adjacent Eugene McGevney house (1837), the oldest building still in existence in Memphis.

In 1842, a small church (30 by 70 feet) was built at a cost of $5000 on property made available by a group of generous Protestant friends. The Friars of the Dominican order came to Memphis in 1846 at the invitation of Bishop Pius Miles, O. P. Of Nashville. Rev. Joseph Alemany, O. P. was appointed the first American pastor the Dominicans of the province of St. Martin de Porres continue to serve the parish today.

In the 1850s, as German and Irish families immigrated to the city, it larger church was needed. Construction of the present church began in 1852 around the older sanctuary. When the present church was completed in 1855, the original building was dismantled and carried out the front doors.

The architect for the present church was Patrick Charles Keeley.
The entire exterior of the church is brick, overlaid with stucco molded to resemble stone.

The church is described as Norman Gothic in style, with a cruciform interior plan, featuring a long nave and two side aisles. Many Gothic characteristics are found throughout the structure. Examples include the upward thrusting, pointed arches, vertical clustered piers, the vaulted ceiling, and the large lancet stained-glass windows that describe the events in the life of Christ.

The oldest window, created in 1899 in Franz Mayer's studio in Munich, was installed in 1900 over the high altar. It depicts St. Dominic receiving the rosary from the Blessed Mother. On the left side of the panel is St. Peter, and on the right, St. Paul. The lower panels depict for Angels holding symbols of our salvation through Jesus: a Lily, a Crown of Thorns and a Chalice, a Cross, and the Crown and Scepter.

Other windows were made in Mayer's Chicago studio and installed between 1913 in 1918. Those over the St. Joseph and Blessed Mother altars depict blessed Imelda of Bologna and St. Thomas Aquinas, respectively.

The stained-glass windows on the west side of the church depict the Five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary (the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple).

The Windows on the east side depict the Five Glorious Mysteries (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption, and the Crowning of Mary, Queen of Heaven).

The last stained-glass window to be installed is located over the main entrance and was designed and constructed by Franz X Settler of Munich. Dedicated in 1924 as a memorial to all parishioners who served in World War I, it depicts a kneeling soldier and sailor surrounded by Dominican Saints.

Between and beneath the stained-glass windows on the west and east walls are relief panels showing that the 14 Stations of The Cross, which depict Christ's suffering on his Journey to Calvary.
The main altar is constructed of scagliola, a material traditionally painted to resemble marble.

The statues on either side of the altar depicts Dominican Saints: Rose of Lima (west side) and Catherine of Siena (east side). On the lower front of the altar, is a relief depiction of Leonardo da Vinci's “Last Supper”.

The Dominican seal was found on the right pedestal, and the Dominican crosses on the left pedestal. Under the freestanding altar table, the sanctuary floor mosaic contains the Dominican motto: “Laudare, Benedicere, et Praedicare” (to praise, to bless, and to preach)., and the word “Veritas” which means “truth”.

The freestanding altar was carved to complement the Gothic style of the pews.

On the left wall of the sanctuary is the ambry which holds holy oils used for various sacraments.

The reliquary on the right wall contains relics of the saints.
The brass and alabaster light fixtures found throughout the church date from 1925, although the church was wired for electricity in 1900.

The medallions of 12 Dominican Saints seen in the upper central ceiling over the nave are painted in oil on canvas. These were probably installed around 1915. The two medallions of the choir loft show St. Cecelia and St. Gregory the Great, patrons of musicians.

The large modern crucifix in the East transept was a gift from Calvary Episcopal Church.

The four manual pipe organ built by Casavant Freres, Limitee, of St. Hyacinthe Canada was installed in 1923; it was restored and rededicated in 1989. The bell in the West Tower was cast by GW Coffin, Buckeye Bell Founder, of Cincinnati.

Three caskets, containing the bodies of Dominican priests who died serving the Memphis community during the yellow fever and cholera epidemics of the 1870s were discovered beneath the church in 1934 when air-conditioning was installed. St. Peter was the first church in Memphis to be air-conditioned. These three priests are memorialized on the west transept wall.

The church was completely renovated in 1982. In 1991 the first floor the rectory, originally constructed in 1872-73 was renovated and now is a part of the parish offices.

In 2001, a $3 million addition to St. Peter's was completed. Designed by Askew Nixon Ferguson architects of Memphis, this edition includes the parish hall, classrooms, and the shrine to St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639), the Patron Saint of Social Justice.

The shrine itself contains a relic of St. Martin and a statue of the saint created by Dominican sculptor Thomas McGlynn in 1962. Five new icons of the St. were created and another for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The shrine is the site of daily masses. In the edges and courtyard is a statue of St. Martin in the first columbarium in the diocese of Memphis.

In 2009 another icon of St. Martin was commissioned for the church. This is located just above the interior entrance to the shrine found in the northwest corner of the sanctuary. In the same year portraits of six living pastors of St. Peter were displayed in the hall connecting the sanctuary and parish hall.

St. Peter church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980."

A state historic marker outside the church reads as follows:

St. Peter Catholic Church

St. Peter's was founded in 1840, the first Roman Catholic Parish in West Tennessee and given to the Dominican Order in 1846. The present church was built 1852-1855 around a smaller church which was then dismantled and carried out the doors. Within 30 years St. Peter's had initiated the founding of three downtown parishes, St. Agnes Academy, St. Peter Orphanage and Christian Brothers Univ. During three Yellow Fever plagues of the 1870's, 8 priests & 11 sisters of the parish died while succoring the spiritual & temporal needs of the city. Early pastors T.L. Grace and J.S. Alemany later became archbishops. A revived St. Peter's was totally restored and added its Fr. Leo Arnoult Parish Center, 1985-91"
Street address:
190 Adams
Memphis, TN


County / Borough / Parish: Shelby Co. TN

Year listed: 1980

Historic (Areas of) Significance: architecture, religion

Periods of significance: 1850-1874

Historic function: church

Current function: church

Privately owned?: yes

Hours of operation: From: 7:00 AM To: 8:00 PM

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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