Saint Mary of the Seven Sorrows, located in downtown Nashville, is the city’s oldest remaining church.
The church was founded in 1844 by Bishop Richard Pius Miles, who was the first Catholic Bishop in Tennessee, and is fondly remembered for his tireless efforts in fostering a Catholic community in Nashville and other parts of the state.
When Bishop Miles died in 1860, he was interred beneath the altar of Saint Mary’s. For those unfamiliar with Catholic tradition, the burial of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, or other members of the clergy beneath a church itself— particularly beneath an altar, especially in the absence of a crypt— is not an uncommon practice. What is unusual about the case of Bishop Miles would be revealed over a century after his death.
In 1972, during renovations to the church, the cast iron casket of Bishop Miles was disentombed from its original location underneath the altar. This exhumation revealed, according to witnesses, that the corpse of the bishop was found miraculously “incorrupt” 112 years after his death.
Per Catholic tradition, the discovery of a body disaffected by time and decomposition is an indication of saintliness. After this finding, the casket of Bishop Miles was reinterred beneath a smaller chapel within Saint Mary’s. Currently, a website organized by the parish of Saint Mary’s advocates for the recognition of sainthood to be conferred onto Bishop Miles.
According to urban legends floated by the businessmen and women who work in downtown Nashville, there are times when the automated church bell of Saint Mary’s fails to chime on the hour. The suspected cause is said to be supernatural: that the spirit of the bishop buried beneath the church may be interfering— making his continued presence known.