38. Basilica St. Mary Star of the Sea

Historic Marker number 38 is located at 1010 Windsor Lane.

During the early missionary years of Florida as a Spanish Territory, the island of Key West began its spiritual journey under the auspices of Spanish Jesuit’s that attempted to establish a permanent mission on the Island. There are indications that it might have been established as a parish as early as 1724, staffed by a Cuban priest. However the unpredictable nature of the Key’s Indians and the lack of government protection against the English raiders from the Carolinas, forced the missionaries to return to Cuba in 1727. In 1743, two Italian Jesuit priest-explorers came from Havana and opened a mission chapel for Indians in Key West. Unable to protect them, the Spanish governor again ordered them to return to Cuba.

The first Catholic Church on the island was dedicated on the 26th of February, 1852. It was the fifth Catholic Church erected in all of Florida and the first in South Florida. With the boundaries of the parish being bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, the dedicated title of “St. Mary, Star of the Sea” was a perfect choice. “Since it first shed its light in Key West, it has like a star of the sea to the wandering mariner, been a star of hope and comfort in times of despair and sorrow, and a star of joy to those who have lived in its teachings.”

This first church was destroyed by a fire in 1901. The present church’s was built in 1905 with an exterior design that represents the eclectic period of American Victorian Architecture and is reminiscent of a modified early renaissance revival building with rusticated exterior walls, round arches, and lunettes filled with transitional gothic arches, louvered shutters and colored glass windows. Many interior elements have both Romanesque and early Renaissance characteristics. Please step inside to view its most striking feature, the stained glass window behind the altar depicting the church Patroness, St. Mary, Star of the Sea.