A few years ago I took a trip to Washington DC in December and while there visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, sometimes referred to as America's Catholic Church. I had heard that it rivaled all the grand churches of Europe, a fact that I wasn't quite prepared to believe until I saw it for myself. It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and has been a work in progress since 1920 when its cornerstone was put in place.
The Basilica is a massive Byzantine-Romanesque style structure that surrounds over 70 spectacularly embellished chapels paying tribute to peoples, cultures, and traditions that are the very fabric of our nation.
My tour of the church began on the lower or Crypt level. At its center is Memorial Hall which takes its name from the tablets of Travertine marble and Radio Black American marble inscribed with the names of benefactors and others memorialized here.
In the very center of the hall stands a statue called Mary, Mother of Mankind by sculptor Harry Eversfield Donahue.
At one end of the lower level lies the Crypt Church, an area that is as large as most modern neighborhood churches. The vaulted ceiling and the walls are adorned with mosaics. The photo above doesn't really do it justice, it was stunning in its beauty and detail.
Many of the 70 chapels are located on this level and run along the length of the building on each side of Memorial Hall.
The chapel to the right is called Our Lady of La Vang. This chapel pays tribute to the Vietnamese region of La Vang where Christians sought refuge during struggles in the 18th Century.
The statue here is a depiction of a vision the people saw when praying while hiding in this region.
Another chapel on this level is Mary Queen of Missions. Venetian glass mosaic depicts Mary crowned with 12 stars and holding a globe.
Each chapel on this level seemed to out shine the last one and there were far too many to show them all here.
The Basilica on the main level is massive in size and topped with a number of domed covered in glass mosaics.
Also on this main level is a chapel that quite literally took my breath away when I entered it. It is called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and it features a bronze tabernacle by Xavier Corbero of Barcelona containing the blessed sacrament. It is evocative of the Ark of the Covenant.
A canopy above the tabernacle depicts Manna falling from the heavens.
There was so much more to see that I'll have to cover this spot again in a future post. For now, I'll leave you with the stained glass window that was set in the cafeteria inside the church. Yes, it was so big that a cafeteria inside is an essential amenity.