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Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
NPS photograph by Jody Cook

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.

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.

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