This Nashville landmark is one of the first Catholic Church buildings constructed in Tennessee and served as the Catholic Cathedral for almost seventy years. The oldest extant church building in downtown Nashville, St. Mary’s dates to 1844-47. Its architect was Adolphus Heiman, a German immigrant who designed several major Nashville buildings, including as the State Asylum, during the late antebellum era. Heiman chose a Greek Revival temple style for St. Mary’s, which features a gable front entrance of two fluted Ionic columns supporting a classical pediment.
Richard Pius Miles (1791-1860), the first Catholic bishop in Nashville, is primarily responsible for the construction of St. Mary’s. Consecrated bishop over a large six-state diocese at Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1838, Miles arrived in Nashville in 1844. He led the city’s growing Catholic population until his death in 1860, when he was buried beneath the cathedral.
In 1926 the Nashville firm of Asmus & Clark renovated both the exterior and interior of St. Mary’s, finishing the west facade in local limestone and altering the original octagonal belfry. In 1972 the congregation moved the cast iron casket of Bishop Miles to a small chapel in the church’s northwest corner. St. Mary’s celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1997.