The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the first Catholic Church
and Mother Parish of Atlanta, is one of the oldest standing buildings
in the city. This church is a highly imaginative early Victorian,
Gothic Revival building. It was designed in 1869 by 33-year-old William
H. Parkins, who had come to Atlanta the year before and continued
to practice in the city until 1882. Drawing upon English and European
church architecture, Parkins built what was at the time the most magnificent
edifice in the city. It was the harbinger of the new, post-Civil War
Atlanta, and although today surrounded by the skyscrapers of the 20th
century, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is one of the few
vestiges of the old city and of the work of William Parkins.
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
NPS photograph by Jody Cook
The first Catholic Church in the city was a square-framed church
built in 1848 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and named the Immaculate
Conception in her honor. In 1861, Father Thomas O'Reilly was appointed
Pastor of the church, and it was due to his influence with General
Slocumb of Sherman's occupying Union army that some of the original
buildings of Atlanta were saved from burning in 1864. During the
siege of Atlanta, however, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
was severely damaged by shellfire. The parishioners decided to build
a new church dedicated to the Virgin Mary on the site of its predecessor.
The estimated cost of construction was between $75,000 and $80,000.
The cornerstone was laid on September 1, 1869 by Bishop Verot of
Savannah, but it was not until 1873 that the huge church was finally
completed and dedication ceremonies held.
This beautiful example of Gothic Revival church architecture is
an eclectic manifestation of an American version of religious architecture
in which the style is a product of both foreign and local influences.
The overall form of the church with its flat brick walls and square
towers with corner pinnacles suggests a "Commissioners' Gothic"
style which originated in England in the early 1800s. However, Parkins
combined this with a French Gothic flavor found in the three rose
windows and the towered facade. The nave was adapted from Italian
Gothic design, as was the round organ loft balcony. The church super-structure,
built of red brick, has a modified cruciform plan defined on the
exterior by a pitched roof over the long nave, intersected by shorter
transept roofs adjacent to the apse and its side chapels. The most
striking feature of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception's exterior
is the pair of square towers flanking the central gable over a tripartite
entrance. Alterations were done to the interior in 1923, 1954, and
1969. The exterior has remained largely intact except in 1923 when
it lost a parapet balustrade with large trefoil crosses that connected
the four pinnacles of its northern tower. In 1954, the Church of
the Immaculate Conception was rededicated as a shrine.
The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located at 48 Martin
Luther King Jr., Dr., SE, in downtown Atlanta. It is open to the
public during regular church services; call 404-521-1866 or visit
the church's website
for more information.