The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Several months ago, I went with friends to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in northeast Washington. I didn't have a camera with me that day, but today I was in the neighborhood and swung by to take some pictures.
The origin of the basilica dates back to 1847, when Pope Pius IX "named the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States." Sixty-six years later, the rector of The Catholic University of America--Bishop Thomas Shahan--presented to Pope Pius X a plan to build a shrine to Mary next to the CUA. The pope not only approved, but he wrote a check for $400.
The cornerstone of the shrine was laid in 1920 by James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, and the lower Crypt Church was completed in 1926. The Great Depression and World War II interrupted construction of the Upper Church, but in the 1950s construction resumed. Catholics nationwide responded generously to fundraisers and the shrine was completed and dedicated in November 1959. In 1990, Pope John Paul II "gave it the papal honor and title 'Basilica.'"
This mosaic is one of two that were presented to the basilica as gifts from the Vatican. What is particularly striking about this mosaic is that the tiles are made from naturally colored stones and are so delicate that, unless you look closely, the mosaic almost appears to be a painting.
All of the chapels within the basilica pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary and represent the universality of Catholicism with mosaics from Mexico, Czechoslavakia, Poland, China, the Philippines, Italy, and the United States.
The basilica is the largest in the western hemisphere and the seventh largest Catholic church in the world. It is also the largest repository of mosaics in the world and includes mosaics that were gifts from John Paul II to the basilica. The last mosaic in the central dome will be installed and unveiled in 2009. Contrary to popular myth, the basilica is not the diocesan seat for the Diocese of Washington. That honor belongs to St. Matthew's Cathedral in downtown Washington.
The basilica is open daily for services and tours are free. There is also a cafeteria and book shop. Regardless of your religious upbringing, the basilica is a tour that is well-worth taking.
Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential (Janet M. Kincaid, 08/07)