Old St. Mary’s Church was founded from the increasing number of German immigrants who came to Cincinnati in the 1800’s. The land for the church was purchased from the estate of General Arthur St. Claire, the first governor of the Northwest Territories and the one responsible for giving Cincinnati its name. The Greek Revival style church was designed by architect Franz Ignatz Erd. With limited funds, the parishioners did most of the work themselves and hand made and baked the bricks at home as well as cut the trees to make the beams that support the church. The cornerstone for St. Marien Kirche (St. Mary’s Church) was laid in 1841 and dedicated in 1842. The first bell was cast by Levi Coffin, a leader in the Underground Railroad movement and placed in the top of the 170-foot tower in 1843. Upon completion it was the largest church in the Ohio Valley.
The interior of the church is breathtaking with high ceilings painted in a trompe l’oeil giving a 3-dimensional look to the panels. The stained glass windows are from Bavaria and the walls are adorned with German paintings. There are hand carved and painted wooden figures that fill the church and behind the main altar are three oil paintings of the Virgin Mary that stand fifteen feet tall. The paintings are changed for the seasons and are put in place by a system of pulleys. Under the high altar are the remains of a woman martyr or, “Santa Martura” meaning Holy Martyr brought to the church from the Roman catacombs in 1844 by Father Clemens Hammer, the first pastor of St. Mary’s.
In 1904, the church changed its name to Old St. Mary’s when St. Mary’s in Hyde Park was founded. Old St. Mary’s is the oldest standing church in Cincinnati and still offers mass in German as well as Latin and English. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
123 East Thirteenth Street, Over-The-Rhine