Sprawling green lawns, life-size bronze statues, trees with roots that stretch for several feet across the ground, and a bubbling, ornate water fountain sound like components of a great park or museum.
But all these things can be found in the heart of downtown Phoenix, at the oldest Roman Catholic Parish -- and only basilica -- in Arizona.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Saint Mary's Basilica, for short) sits on the corner of Third and Monroe Streets, where it's been since its founding in 1881.
Franciscan Friars have staffed the basilica since 1895. Construction of Saint Mary's Basilica was completed in 1914 (with a dedication a year later), and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
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Statues of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, by Arizona artist Michael Myers.
There are four bronze sculptures outside, and three of them represent an important figure in Catholicism. This trio of icons was forged in bronze by Prescott-based artist Michael Myers, who has been sculpting religious figures and scenes for the past thirty years.
Myers' works can be seen in Colleyville, Texas ("Mary and Little Jesus"), Rey, California ("Greeting Christ"), and Boulder, Colorado ("The Sower"). The three Myers sculptures on the Saint Mary's Basilica grounds in Phoenix all contain a minutia of details, right down to the wrinkle's on a nun's face.
There's a sculpture of Saint Francis of Assisi near a wooden fence (decorated with plastic grape vines). Saint Francis is kneeling as if he's about to pray, and there's a bird perched on his shoulder. Near the sidewalk facing Monroe Street is a sculpture of Pope John Paul II, smiling with arms upraised (on a side note, Pope John Paul II visited the basilica in 1987, and there's are numerous plaques and markers there to remind us).
Near the edge of the grounds, facing east, there's a sculpture of Mother Teresa, looking jovial. Myers' artistry and reverence for his subjects is apparent in the incredible details of these sculptures.
The Mother Teresa sculpture is just north of a wall where there's a mural carved in stone depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing before Juan Diego. There are prickly pear cacti and other desert flora in the scene.
A mural depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing before peasant Juan Diego.
On the opposite side of the basilica, facing Van Buren Street, there's a fourth bronze sculpture by sculptor Gary Lee Price, whose inspirational and historic figures are housed in museums around the world. The sculpture is called "Circle of Peace," and it depicts several children playing and holding hands in a circle.
A stroll around the Saint Mary's Basilica grounds is well worth the fifteen minutes it takes, and people who are interested in going inside should be happy to know mass is still held every day of the week.
Saint Mary's Basilica is located at 231 N. Third Street. For more information, including videos and blogs from the Pastor and Friars, visit www.saintmarysbasilica.org. To attend a service or schedule a tour, call 602-354-2100.
"Circle of Peace" by Gary Price
Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and PHOENIX magazine, and is now a full-time freelancer.