Friday, January 29, 2010


Maryland's Contribution to Not Getting Burned at the Stake, and to the Origins of the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment
© Russ Barnes 2010. Photo and text.

ST. MARY’S CITY, Maryland, January 30, 2010. "Do you remember the European background out of which the early settlers came to Maryland shores?" asks Pete Himmelheber, my guide and historian of the St. Mary's County Historical Society.  
"Back in Europe, people got burned at the stake for what they believed.  It was different here in Maryland.”

Why was it different?
Maryland's history of religious tolerance becomes clear to anyone who visits St. Mary’s, Calvert, or Charles County, Maryland.  Himmelheber and others host heritage tours in this unique region.

The implications of this special Maryland area are contemporary given what we know, unfortunately, about religious conflict round the world.
“Tours of this region reveal beauty and soul.  And they also show our American heritage of religious freedom founded, largely, because of the way the state of Maryland started out,” Himmelheber tells me.
"In those days, kings persecuted whole other religious sects to preserve their own power and treasure" he explains.  Great numbers of those seeking to escape this religious persecution fled from Europe on two ships, The Ark and The Dove, and became the first settlers of what is now Historic St. Mary's City.

Given the intensity of the catastrophic religious conflicts in our contemporary  world, and their effects upon us all -- everybody -- the implications of what was achieved early on in Maryland state, three centuries ago, bear great significance.

As you will later come to understand, the achievement was "no piece of cake." So with that in mind, let's continue the story of how religious freedom evolved and continues, to evolve, in Maryland.

Soon after the The Ark and The Dove landed, other ships began landing at such places as St. Clement's Island.  “The settlers all came from different sects -- Anglicans, Puritans, Catholics, Quakers.  So the whole kettle of fish started all over again right here on the shores of the Potomac, Patuxent, and the Chesapeake.  Close by St. Mary’s City," says Himmelheber.
Himmelheber is a superb guide to these religious sites.  We pass through forests, fields, streams, and marshes of the region.  "See that steeple over there off to the left?" he points as we pass through Morganza in St. Mary's County.  "That's St. Joseph's Church. Roman Catholic.  When it was first built -- before 1700 -- it was deep down in that very valley, right over there.  Now, why do you think anyone would build a church in a valley rather than on top of a hill?" 
"They wanted to hide the church?" I queried. 
"Right you are!" Himmelheber affirms.  "You see, Lord Baltimore, who was Catholic, received a royal charter from Charles I in 1632 for the proprietary colony of Maryland.  Baltimore was personally committed to, and promoted what he called 'freedom of conscience.'  His hope was to establish tolerance within the Maryland colony as a way of protecting Catholics from the persecution they experienced in England." As it turned out, his work did more than even that.
We explore the Sir Christopher Wren-inspired Christ Episcopal Church in Chaptico; the Brick Chapel, built by the Jesuits in 1667, closed by Royal decree in 1704, and now under reconstruction.  Our itinerary includes visits to religious sites in all three Southern Maryland Counties: Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's.  The list here is abbreviated (see links below). 
We go on to visit Trinity Episcopal Church (pictured above) one of the first churches in the American republic, overlooking a bluff fast by the St. Mary's River, then travel a brief distance down the road to the town of Ridge to see its "chapel of ease," St. Mary's Chapel.  "A chapel of ease (sometimes "chapel-of-ease') is a church building other than the parish church, built within the bounds of a parish for the attendance of those who cannot reach the parish church conveniently."

Want to follow this Southern Maryland story?  Check in next week for next installment.

Some of the places we visit:  We next explore St. Andrews Church in California not far from Sotterly Plantation; Our Lady Star of the Sea at Solomons Island, the oldest Catholic Church in Calvert County; the Mount Carmel Monastery at La Plata, the first monastery for women in the U.S.; St. Ignatius Church and Thomas Manor House high upon a hill at Chapel Point, Port Tobacco; and Christ Church, Port Tobacco Parish, at La Plata which, in 1904, was dismantled stone by stone in Port Tobacco and moved from there by ox cart to La Plata. 

You will see some peaceful looking places.  And you will experience some high drama.
[To be continued.  Check in next week for more of the story about religious freedom germinating in Southern Maryland]


St. Mary's County Maryland Historical Society,

Calvert County Maryland Visitor Guide,

Charles County Maryland Economic Development & Tourism,
St. Mary's College,

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