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Religious Liberty and History in Maryland

The story of America’s religious heritage is woven throughout the state of Maryland.

From Baltimore to Emmitsburg in the north and St. Marys City in the south, destinations around Maryland showcase the state’s role in America’s spiritual journey. Groups that tour the area will see historic sites related to early religious liberties, important Catholic shrines, a world-famous chapel and several important Protestant churches.

This itinerary makes a loop through Maryland to visit some of these religious sites and the destinations that encompass them. It starts in Baltimore and then heads up to Emmitsburg, down to the D.C. suburbs, south to St. Marys City and then back north to end in Annapolis, not far from Baltimore. Driving distances between each of these places are short, so it’s possible to do this trip in four days. Adding a day or two in Baltimore or Annapolis would give your group even more time to enjoy these waterfront cities.

Catholic History in Baltimore

Located right on the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore is Maryland’s largest city and marquee destination, with dozens of great attractions for groups to explore. Faith-based travelers, especially Catholic groups, should take time to visit a trio of historic Catholic sites around the city.

Visitors will likely be awed by the magnificence of the Basilica Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Constructed between 1806 and 1821, this was the first cathedral built in a metropolitan area of the United States after the adoption of the Constitution.

Another important landmark is St. Mary’s Historic Site on Paca Street. This site preserves the home of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born canonized saint, as well as the first Roman Catholic seminary built in the United States. Groups can also visit the Oblate Convent, which was founded in 1829 and is the country’s oldest religious congregation for women of African descent.

While you’re there: No visit to Baltimore would be complete without spending some time at Inner Harbor. Groups can visit museums such as the Maryland Science Center and the National Aquarium, or take one of numerous harbor cruises that depart from the site.

Seton Shrine and More in Emmitsburg

About 55 miles northwest of Baltimore, right on Maryland’s border with Pennsylvania, Emmitsburg is a small city with a big claim to fame: It was the home of Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Catholic girls school that she established. Groups can explore Seton’s life and heritage in depth at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The shrine involves several experiences. Visitors can tour the home where Seton lived, as well as several other historic structures on the property related to her life and ministry. There is also a museum at the site with an introductory video and exhibits about Seton and her legacy. Finally, the basilica at the shrine is a beautiful church open for Mass, prayer and reflection.

Religious groups in Emmitsburg should also stop by the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the oldest replica of the Grotto of Lourdes in the Western Hemisphere.

While you’re there: For a memorable meal in a historic setting, take your group to Emmitsburg’s Carriage House Inn. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the restaurant was built in 1857 and later became a feed and grain warehouse. In the 1900s, it served as a broom factory and later a bus depot before being refit into an elegant country inn.

Biblical Art in the D.C. Suburbs

From Emmitsburg, it’s a short 60-mile drive south to Maryland’s Washington, D.C., suburbs. Though cities such as Bethesda and Silver Spring are known as prosperous, busy bedroom communities, they also hold several attractions of interest to Protestant travelers.

In Bethesda, the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum is a campus that consists of three buildings that house artwork created by area artist Phillip Ratner, as well as pieces by other artists. Though the art spans a wide range of media and subjects, a significant portion of the galleries consists of a visual walk through the Bible that features artwork on biblical themes.

The Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters is in nearby Silver Springs, and groups can arrange a tour of the facility to learn more about this often-overlooked Christian denomination and its history. The headquarters includes a visitors center with educational exhibits, and tours of the offices last about 45 minutes.

While you’re there: Several of the suburbs around D.C. have vibrant arts scenes. The Silver Spring Art District features public artwork, galleries, studios and theaters, and Bethesda’s Arts and Entertainment District is a popular place for groups to catch live music and other fine-arts performances.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.