Recognized as an architectural masterpiece among Catholic churches in the south, it is the spiritual home of a vibrant St. Mary Catholic community today. The construction of this place of worship was begun in 1842 as the Cathedral of the newly established Diocese of Natchez. The St. Mary congregation takes pride in the basilica's colorful and prayerful setting, and welcomes visitors from near and distant places. The city of Natchez, on the Mississippi River and the birthplace of Mississippi, is a tourist destination because of its historic ante-bellum homes. St. Mary Basilica, also ante-bellum, is the city's central landmark.