Feeding Your Soul at the Dinner Table of the South
The Cathedral at Canterbury over in England was a focal point for Christian pilgrims during the middle ages. Well, we’re here to tell you that Canterbury has nothing on us. People come from all over the United States to visit our most revered and soulful places just as the medieval English folk visited Canterbury. Literary types will tell you that Chaucer and his crew took about 8 days to make their pilgrimage to Canterbury and return home. We recommend you take 5 and do Birmingham. Here’s how you do it.
Welcome to Birmingham; we hope you’re rested, because there’s a lot to see!
Your first stop will be Collegeville,
Named for Lauderdale College elementary school, often called “the college.” It operated at the corner of 27th Court and 34th Place North until it burned in 1916. Your visit, however, will be to the Bethel Baptist Church, where civil rights leader, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth preached. Bethel served as the headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, (ACMHR), an early organization that applied legal and nonviolent direct action against segregation in transportation, schools, and accommodations, and against employment discrimination. The ACMHR operated between 1956 and 1961 and provided a working model for movements that would come later during the struggle for civil rights.
Now that you’ve enjoyed a brief introduction to our civil rights history, your next stop will take you right to the heart of it. After all, no pilgrimage to our sacred places would be complete without visiting…
The 16th Street Baptist Church.
Perhaps the most widely known of Birmingham’s churches, its bombing in September of 1963 resulted in the deaths of four young girls – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson. While that galvanizing event was a terrible time in the history of our city – our country, even – the church serves as a powerful reminder of the ability of human beings to triumph over darkness, to change for the better. In many ways, the whole city of Birmingham represents that potential.
Like the 16th Street Baptist Church, there were a number of Birmingham churches that played pivotal roles in our nation’s fight for civil rights. (For the complete list, go here.) Consider, for example, the St. Paul United Methodist Church. Founded in 1869, this lovely church is one of the oldest African-American churches in the city. The current building, which was built in 1904, was the site of one of the earliest meetings in Birmingham during the direct action campaign to integrate the city’s buses. During the demonstrations of 1963, St. Paul helped train residents in civil disobedience.
Now, chances are, it’s lunch time.
And, this is Birmingham, which means you have options. If you’re feeling the need for soul food, you can’t do better than Z’s Restaurant, home of the bean pie. (Yes, bean pie, and you need to try it before you get all judgy). Or, if you don’t mind a short drive to the north, check out Niki’s West, a Birmingham classic since 1957. A walk down 20th street offers a number of options ranging from Bistro Two-Eighteen for white tablecloth fare, to Paramount and The Essential for something a little more hip and casual, to Sol’s Deli for excellent sandwiches and old-school meat and three.
While you’re on the north side of the city proper,
There are a number of churches constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that are well worth a visit, if only to bask in their peaceful ambience. You’ll want, for example, to visit the Cathedral Church of the Advent. Built in 1893, the Advent was designated the Cathedral of the Diocese of Alabama in 1982. Worth seeing there are the church garden and sanctuary. If you find yourself here during the holidays, be sure to attend the Advent’s production of Nine Lessons and Carols, featuring incredible choral work accompanied by a number of instruments including the church’s 6,056-pipe organ.
Your next stop is the First Methodist Church of Birmingham,
Now known as “First Church.” Constructed two years prior to the Advent, First Church was built in the American Romanesque Revivalist style, and is clad in Ohio brownstone. You’ll want to see its marble baptismal font purchased from Tiffany’s in New York the same year it was built. The sanctuary, renovated in 2014 to its original form, is well worth the visit.
After a day of church going,
We might recommend any number of restaurants and all sorts of eats. We’d have to start with barbecue because, well, down South we like to talk barbecue. It’s worth noting that since the linked entry was written, James Beard Award-winning whole-hog barbecue genius, Rodney Scott has opened up shop here in the Ham. If pizza’s your pie, check out Post Office Pies, Slice, or the Filling Station. And, if you’re feeling fancy, you certainly can’t go wrong at any number of our upscale restaurants such as James Beard award-winners, Highlands Bar & Grill and Hot and Hot Fish Club.
Thus ends your first day.
First, eat a good breakfast.
If it’s a weekend, you have lots of brunch choices. And then there’s always the Birmingham classic, The Original Pancake House. Once fueled up, you’re going to start again on the north side of the city…
at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Constructed in 1893, St. Paul’s Cathedral is a remarkable edifice. Built in basilica form with a semi-circular domed apse at one end, this lovely church is certainly memorable with its cross-topped spires and stained glass windows. Worth seeing here are the 14 Stations of the Cross around the walls of the nave, the statues of Mary, St. Joseph, St. John Vianney, and St. Paul, all of which are in the vicinity of the sanctuary, and the statue of St. Anthony of Padua, which is immediately to the right in the back when you enter the nave.
Now, it’s time to head to the south part of town
Where you’ll visit a few more of our awe-inspiring churches. You’ll definitely want to visit the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Trinity – Holy Cross. Its interior is truly stunning with Byzantine icons on the walls (known as iconostasis) and a painted domed ceiling. If you happen to hit Birmingham at the right time, you might catch the Greek Food Festival, an amazing annual fundraiser at Holy Trinity – Holy Cross.
While we’re talking food fests,
We must mention St. Elias Maronite Church, home of the annual St. Elias Lebanese and Cultural Festival. St. Elias belongs to the Maronite Rite, which evolved from the Antiochene Tradition of Catholicism. The patron saint of the church is St. Elias, or Elijah as many know him. The sanctuary is heart-racingly beautiful, and if you’re fortunate enough to catch a service there, you’ll hear much of it spoken in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.
If, by chance, you missed the food festivals at St. Elias and Holy Trinity,
You’re likely about ready for lunch.
If you’re in the mood for a burger, there are many choices. Or, since you’re next stop is to the west, we recommend a stopover in the trendy little neighborhood of Avondale, where you’ll find many choices, ranging from sandwiches to burgers and oysters, to hotdogs and more.
Our next stop takes us to the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
On the west side of Birmingham. Built in 1930, Blessed Sacrament has the feeling of walking through a European cathedral. You’ll want to climb the stairs to the balcony to enjoy the full effect of this expansive space.
Lastly, we bring you back to the Five Points area
Where you have a number of options. St. Mary’s on the Highlands, established in 1887, is a lovely gothic structure with some wonderful peaceful spaces. Also worth visiting in Five Points is Highlands United Methodist church, a Spanish Renaissance Revival style church designed by architect, Thornton Marye, who designed the Fox Theatre in Atlanta among other well-known buildings.
While you’re in the neighborhood, you might want to check out Temple Emanu-El, constructed in 1889, Temple Beth-El, a Romanesque structure erected in 1926, and the Independent Presbyterian Church, a Neo-gothic structure also built in 1926.
Thus ends day two.
Time to hit the road.
Today, you’re going to visit the largest religious network in the world and a divinely inspired shrine. EWTN Global Catholic Network was founded in 1981 and is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 TV channels are broadcast in a number of different languages 7/24/365 to more than 298 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. From EWTN, you will travel 60 miles north of Birmingham to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Monastery of the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration. Divinely inspired, Mother Mary Angelica, who also founded EWTN, built this exquisite campus on 400 acres of gently rolling land near Cullman, Alabama. You will want to devote a day to this part of your journey.
As you arrive back in Birmingham, you will have worked up an appetite.
We recommend the restaurants in the Uptown area,
Where you can find everything from traditional pub fare at Todd English, to Brazilian churrasco at Texas de Brazil, traditional regional foods at The Southern, modern Mexican fare at Cantina Laredo, and more.
Thus ends day three.
Today, we hit the road again.
This time, it’s straight back up to the Cullman area to visit the Ave Maria Grotto. The life’s work of Brother Jospeh Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey, the grotto features many of the world’s sacred places constructed in miniature from concrete, broken tile, donated materials, glass beads – all sorts of materials – even coconut shells. We set aside a day for this visit, and you’ll want to spend all of it experiencing this incredible display of religious devotion.
By the time you get home,
You’ll want to relax with a good meal.
Thus ends day four.
It’s your last day and we have a little something different planned.
But first, the back story. In 1981, in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, six children claim to have been visited by the Virgin Mary over a period of several days. Since then, several of the children have continued to have these visions of the Blessed Mother. In 1986, Terry Colafrancesco, having had a profound experience himself during a visit to Medjugorje, began writing a newsletter to help spread the word of the Yugoslavian visionaries. The newsletter was soon being read by more than 100,000 people. In 1988, one of the visionaries, Marija Pavlovic Lunetti, came to Birmingham to donate a kidney to her brother, and stayed with Terry and his family. Terry realized his mission in life was to share the word about these experiences and created an organization called Caritas of Birmingham with that end in mind. In 1992, he created the largest Medjugorje center in the world in the form of the 51,000 square-foot Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages. And that’s where we’re going, today. It’s worth noting that the Catholic Church has not yet recognized the validity of the Medjugorje visions. Regardless, the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages is a lovely place to visit. Here at the Tabernacle, you’ll be able to see where Marija has experienced her visions of the Virgin Mary, enjoy walks on the grounds, and experience the gorgeous architecture of the facility, much of which was created with hand-hewn stone.
Once back to Birmingham,
We recommend you enjoy your last night with a night on the town.
This is, after all, the Dinner Table of the South. We could offer up another four or five pages of suggestions, but, really, all you have to do is ask a local and they’ll point you to a place you’ll enjoy.
We hope you enjoy your pilgrimage, and Godspeed!
For additional information regarding hotels or step-on guide services, call our Tourism Division at 800-458-8085 or 205-458-8000.
Bethel Baptist Church – (205) 322-5360
16th Street Baptist Church – (205) 251-9402
St. Paul United Methodist Church – (205) 252-3236
Cathedral Church of the Advent – (205) 251-2324
First Methodist Church of Birmingham – (205) 254-3186
St. Paul’s Cathedral – (205) 251-1279
Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Trinity – Holy Cross – (205) 716-3080
St. Elias Maronite Church – (205) 252-3867
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church – (205) 785-9840
Highlands United Methodist – (205) 933-8751
Temple Emanu-El – (205) 933-8037
Temple Beth-El – (205) 933-2740
Independent Presbyterian Church – (205) 933-1830
EWTN Global Catholic Network – (205) 271- 2900
Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament – (256) 352-6267
Monastery of the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration – (256) 352-6267
Ave Maria Grotto – (256) 734-4110
Caritas of Birmingham – (205) 672-2000
Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages – (205) 672-2000