It’s impossible to understand America without learning about the country’s religious heritage. And few states offer as much spiritual history as Maryland, which played a vital role in the establishment of religious liberty for all Americans.
The variety of historic religious sites in Maryland is a tapestry woven with numerous worship traditions and compelling figures. Catholic heritage is strong in the area, but Protestant groups have also thrived since the first settlement of the colony, and the peaceful coexistence of these two groups helped pave the way for nationwide religious tolerance.
Groups interested in learning more about Maryland’s religious heritage can see centuries-old churches and visit shrines dedicated to heroes of faith. Along the way, they’ll learn about how various faith-based groups helped to shape American history.
The following tour begins in St. Mary’s County in southern Maryland and then winds its way up to Baltimore before continuing west toward Frederick. Taking five days to explore the area will allow for leisurely travel, as well as plenty of time for rest and reflection.
Destination St. Mary’s County
Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway
In several counties throughout southern Maryland, the Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway takes travelers to numerous sites that preserve important spiritual history. St. Mary’s County has numerous churches and chapels that make up part of that trail.
Groups start at the Dent Chapel, a historic Victorian Gothic building that was once part of a military academy and that now sits adjacent to the St. Mary’s County Welcome Center. From there, they proceed to Christ Episcopal Church in the town of Chaptico, which played a role in the War of 1812.
The next stop is Historic St. Mary’s City, which is thought by some historians to be the birthplace of religious liberty in America. Groups can learn about the city’s religious heritage and visit the Brick Chapel, which is reconstructed on the site of a 1667 Jesuit church.
While you’re there: Spend some time enjoying the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s maritime culture. Groups can explore several historic lighthouses along the peninsula or time their visits to coincide with one of the annual events, such as a crab festival, an oyster festival or a jazz and seafood festival.
Destination St. Clement’s Island
From St. Mary’s City, it’s a short drive to the St. Clement’s Island Museum, which sits on the eastern shore of the Potomac River overlooking the small St. Clement’s Island. At the museum, groups can step out of their vehicles and onto a water taxi for a cruise to the island.
St. Clement’s Island is considered to be the birthplace of Maryland, and visitors to the island can see the large cross that commemorates the first landing and the first Catholic mass celebrated there by Jesuit priest Father Andrew White. Back at the museum on the mainland, visitors can learn more about the roots of religious tolerance between the Catholics and Protestants who first settled the area.
After stopping to visit the island and the museum, groups go on to visit St. Francis Xavier Church, a 1776 building located on a historic estate, as well as St. Andrews Episcopal Church, which boasts rare, hand-painted altar screens.
While you’re there: Sotterley Plantation is the only remaining Tidewater plantation in Maryland that is open to the public. The 95-acre grounds preserve meadows, gardens and the Patuxent River shoreline, as well as a 1703 plantation home and an 1830s slave cabin.