Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

Edit profile
Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (fondly called "Smokey Mary's") is an Episcopal Anglo-Catholic church within the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The church complex is located in the heart of Times Square on West 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. In 1990 the Church of St. Mary the Virgin Complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


The Society of the Free Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in the New York City was incorporated on December 3, 1868. The Rev. Thomas McKee Brown wanted to build a church in New York City dedicated to expressing the full witness of Catholic thought in ritual and teaching within the Episcopal Church. A year after his ordination, Father Brown brought his plan to Bishop Potter, who suggested that a church was needed near Longacre Square (Times Square in 1905) on the west side of what is now Midtown. John Jacob Astor gave three lots on West 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, "stipulating that the Church should be free, and positively orthodox in management and working."

On April 6, 1868, the cornerstone was laid for the first church, located at 228 West 45th Street (today the site of the Booth Theatre). The rector and trustees named the church for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. The first church was designed by William Hallet, and was dedicated on December 8, 1870 (the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Bishop Potter was unable to officiate at the service, but his place was taken by the Rt. Rev. Horatio Southgate, the Episcopal Church's former missionary bishop to the Ottoman Empire.

New church

By 1890, the congregation had outgrown the church on West 45th Street. In 1892 the late Miss Sara L. Cooke, a member of the parish, left the church a legacy which eventually amounted to $700,000, in addition to real estate. Father Brown and the other trustees decided to use this legacy to fund a new church on an eight-lot parcel running through from 46th to 47th Streets. The new complex was to include a rectory at the 47th Street end of the lot, a clergy house (for curates and assistants) and a mission house (for the sisters). The style would be French Gothic, with a church seating 800 people.

Erecting this building was a big challenge to French architect Napoleon Le Brun. Nothing of this size and scale was ever attempted around the late 19th century. Le Brun was one of very few architects who first worked with iron framing, which is buried within the walls.

The cornerstone for the new church was laid on December 8, 1894. The completed church was 60 feet (18 m) wide and 180 feet (55 m) long, and the nave was 80 feet (24 m) from floor to ceiling and 46 feet (14 m) wide. The chancel, at the north end of the building, was 48 feet (15 m) deep, terminating with the marble high altar moved from the former church.


Today, Saint Mary's is widely known for its solemn liturgies and choral and organ music. Solemn High Mass and Solemn Evensong and Benediction are celebrated on Sundays, and Mass is offered daily. Due to the copious use of incense, the church is sometimes fondly referred to as "Smokey Mary's". From 1996 to 1997, the interior of the church was redecorated with vivid colors, including cobalt blue vaulting with gold stars.


The choir of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is a professional ensemble that sings music for the liturgy. At each Solemn Mass, the plainchant is sung in the original Latin. The choir's repertoire of Masses and motets stretches from the Middle Ages to works by living composers.


2 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference and added a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via