St. Mary’s in the Mountains
A Brief History
The first Catholic Church in Nevada was built by Father Hugh Gallagher in Virginia City in 1860. A wooden edifice, it collapsed in heavy winds the first winter.
The first brick church was built on the current site in 1868, under the direction of Father Patrick Manogue, only to survive a few years before burning along with the majority of Virginia City in the “Great Fire” of October 1875. Started in “Crazy Kate’s” Boarding House on “A” Street, the heavy winds soon blew the embers down the mountainside eventually reaching St. Mary’s. The church interior was gutted, although some of the fixtures and statues were saved from the fire.
This was the height of the “Big Bonanza” on the Comstock Lode, and St. Mary’s was re-built in a manner even grander then before. Much of the interior you see today dates from 1876. Housed in our belfry is a 2,264 lb. bell with a 100 lb. clapper. This magnificent bell survived the fire and we still ring it on occasion to this day.
The wooden arches and pews in the church were made from Northern California redwood with white pine moldings. The pews (complete with doors) were once rented to the citizens of Virginia City, with the more prominent townsfolk sitting in the front pews!
Throughout the years, St. Mary’s in the Mountains has endured many hardships. The choir loft was removed by a group of monks (Cistercians who had formed an artistic group called the Damascus Foundation), and fixtures were removed in an effort to modernize the church. The townsfolk of Virginia City protested and the monks were here but a short time (1957-1959).
In 2009 a massive restoration and retrofit program was undertaken at our church. The choir loft and staircases have been restored and this beautiful church has been returned to much of her former glory. Grants from the National Park Service, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and hundreds of private donations from our “Friends of St. Mary’s” paid for much of the project, but the parish still has a debt of more than one million dollars.
We’ve entered a new historical era in St. Mary’s history. The doors of our newly restored church are open to receive pilgrims every day and our Roman Catholic Museum is a magnificent tribute to the Catholic Faith on the Comstock.
St. Mary’s in the Mountains would not be able to keep these blessed doors open if it were not for the pilgrims that visit us in all seasons, from all regions of the globe, sharing their prayers and prosperity. Please join us when you are in Virginia City. Say a prayer and light a candle in this beautiful House of God, your presence here is most appreciated.
St. Mary’s in the Mountains is open every day 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Please call the church at (775) 847-9099 for the museum schedule, or to set up a docent led tour of the church and museum.