Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
It’s a phenomenon how the closer one lives to an attraction, the least likely they’ll visit. I know people who have lived in DC all their lives and never visited the U.S. Capitol or the Spy Museum or National Zoo. Those places become part of the landscape rather than destinations. So, to start the new year, I wanted to think closer to home for our first outing.
Being only a mile from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, we pass it many times each week but it wasn’t until now that we finally paid a visit.
It was a very cold night, freezing the bottle of water, which seemed to fascinate Najwa more than the idols.
From the outside, it’s obviously a big building. From the inside, it seemed to grow even bigger. There are so many chapels, so many mosaics, so many statues. There are many versions of Mary and her story that it was mind-boggling. She was European and Asian and Hispanic and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. And African! It takes a big building to tell these many stories.
The basilica houses 70 chapels honoring Mary and reflecting the origins of the Catholic immigrants and religious orders whose generosity erected them. Its Greek-styled interior is crowned with numerous domes decorated in mosaics, similar to the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, Italy, but much larger.
The diameter of the main (Trinity) dome of the basilica is only 7 feet (2 m) smaller than that of the dome of the United States Capitol. The shrine was built in the style of medieval churches, relying on masonry walls and columns in place of structural steel and reinforced concrete. It was designed to hold 10,000 worshipers and includes modern amenities such as a basement cafeteria, hidden public address speakers to carry speech at the altar to the rear of the building, air conditioning and the largest (in 1959) radiant heating slab in the world.
We’re not Catholic nor have a deep understanding of what all Catholics believe but fortunately they have tours to help understand the many different chapels and artwork and everything. And they covered so much, I can’t remember all the stories told, but I did take a bunch of photos.
If you grew up watching the Evans family in the TV series Good Times, they lived in the housing projects called Cabrini-Green. The Cabrini was Frances Xavier Cabrini, also called Mother Cabrini, who was an Italian-American religious sister, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Catholic religious institute that was a major support to the Italian immigrants to the United States. She was the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, on July 7, 1946.
In November 1880, Cabrini and six other women who had taken religious vows with her founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.). Cabrini composed the Rule and Constitutions of the religious institute, and she continued as its superior general until her death. The sisters took in orphans and foundlings, opened a day school to help pay expenses, started classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn a little more money. The institute established seven homes and a free school and nursery in its first five years. Its good works brought Cabrini to the attention of (the now Blessed) Giovanni Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza, and of Pope Leo XIII.
Virtually every story told of Mary tells a story of a white woman. At least that’s the depiction seen in most images of her. But then we came across the Our Mother of Africa Chapel with a black version of Mary. Interesting.
The statue of Our Mother of Africa holding the Christ Child faces a bas-relief in the nave, which chronicles the African-American odyssey, and draws us to the Crucified Christ in the sanctuary These three sculptural components constitute a sacra conversazione, that is a sacred conversation, in which the spectator participates with Our Mother of Africa, her Crucified Son, and the African-American children in the sacred drama enacted here.
Our Mother of Africa, holding the Christ Child, looks down upon us. She strides forward toward the narrative relief in the nave, and her Divine Son gestures for us to read the relief, which spans the African American experience from slavery to emancipation.
Drexel University in Philadelphia is a good school. One of the handful of co-op schools in the country. What I didn’t know that it was named after St. Katharine Drexel was was an American heiress, philanthropist, religious sister, educator, and foundress. She was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2000. She was the second canonized saint to have been born in the United States, and the first to have been born a U.S. citizen.
At this point, it became obvious that Najwa was kind of enjoying the visit, but it wasn’t high on her fun list. She paid more attention to the melting ice in the bottle of water.
In the Alpine countryside of northern Slovenia there stands a small village named Brezje. The village church, St. Vitus, has existed in one form or another for centuries. In late 18th century years a pastor named Father Ažbe built a chapel onto the church in which he set up a shrine to Mary Help of Christians, and placed therein a copy of painting he had brought with him when he studied in Innsbruck. The people of the neighboring hamlets and villages began coming to the shrine.
Then the lands thereabout were occupied by the French under Napoleon, a Slovenian artist named Leopold Layer (1752-1828) used his talents to make counterfeit money. He and his brother were caught and jailed. After a peace treaty was signed with Austria, the French left, Layer was released. While in prison, he had made a vow to paint the chapel in Brezje if he were freed. In 1814 he fulfilled his vow, not only painting and decorating chapel walls, but also painting a new version of Mary, Help of Christians, a painting which became the center of more than local devotion, especially when reports of miraculous healings began to circulate in Slovenia. Today this shrine in Brezje is one of the national pilgrimage centers of the country.
Fr. Hugo wrote in the Ave Maria magazine that he had spent two years in Brezje, recuperating from illness and regaining his strength. It was a peaceful time living near Marija Pomagaj. Now he wanted Marija Pomagaj to come to Lemont. He petitioned his confrere, Fr. Blaž Farčnik, to paint a copy and send it to the United States.
Fr. Blaž Farčnik, O.F.M. (1879-1945), was academically trained in artistry and painting, and had made his studies in Florence, Italy. He had already designed some covers for the Ave Maria magazine, a publication founded by Fr. Casimir in 1909 for the American Slovenians. His work may also be found in various churches in Slovenia and Croatia. And so he made a copy, which was touched formally to the original in Brezje, before it was shipped to the United State. Fr. John Capistran arrived in Lemont from Sveta Gora, Slovenia, on October 1st, 1924, bringing with him Farčnik’s painting and also two Carniolian queen bees. On December 1st, 1924, the painting of Maria Pomagaj was officially placed on the altar of the temporary chapel and blessed by Fr. John.
Our Lady of Guadalupe (Spanish: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe (Spanish: Virgen de Guadalupe), is a Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with a Marian apparition and a venerated image enshrined within the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and the world’s third most-visited sacred site.
Charles Lwanga (Luganda: Kaloli Lwanga) was a Ugandan convert to the Catholic Church, who was martyred for his faith and is revered as a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. A member of the Baganda tribe, Lwanga was born in the Kingdom of Buganda, the central and southern part of modern Uganda, and served as chief of the royal pages and later major-domo in the court of King Mwanga II of Buganda. He was baptised by Pere Giraud on November 15, 1885. As part of the king’s effort to resist foreign colonization, the king insisted that Christian converts abandon their new faith and executed many Anglicans and Catholics between 1885 and 1887, including Lwanga and other officials in the royal court or otherwise very close to him.
Lwanga senior and the other Christians who accompanied him in death were canonized on 18 October 1964 by Pope Paul VI during the Vatican II conference. “To honor these African saints, Paul VI became the first reigning pope to visit sub-Saharan Africa when he toured Uganda in July 1969, a visit that included a pilgrimage to the site of the martyrdom at Namugongo.” The Basilica of the Uganda Martyrs was built at the site of the executions and serves as their shrine. The Brothers of St. Charles Lwanga senior (Luganda: Bannakaroli Brothers) were founded in 1927 as an indigenous religious congregation of Ugandan men committed to providing education to the disadvantaged youth of their country.
Our Lady of China is the name given to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Donglu, China, first appearing in 1900.
During the Boxer Rebellion, a great number of soldiers attacked the village of Donglu, Hebei. The village consisted of a small community of Christians founded by the Vincentian Fathers. The Virgin Mary appeared in white, and a fiery horseman (believed to be St. Michael) chased away the soldiers. The pastor, Fr Wu, commissioned a painting of Mary with Christ child dressed in golden imperial robes. This painting became the image of Our Lady, Queen of China. Donglu became a place of pilgrimage in 1924. The image was blessed and promulgated by Pope Pius XI in 1928.
The Trinity Dome is the central and largest dome of the National Shrine. This “Crowning Jewel” will be adorned in mosaic according to the original iconographic scheme of the Great Upper Church and will depict the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and a procession of saints who have an association with the United States and the National Shrine. The procession of saints includes, among others, St. Juan Diego (the first canonized male Native American), St. Kateri Tekakwitha (the first canonized female Native American), St. Teresa of Calcutta (an honorary American citizen), St. Francis Cabrini, M.S.C. (the first U.S. citizen to be canonized), St. John Paul II (the first pope to visit the National Shrine), and St. Junípero Serra (declared a saint by Pope Francis at the National Shrine in 2015 for the first canonization ever to take place on American soil). The Nicene Creed will encircle the base of the dome, while the dome’s four pendentives will feature the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
During his visit to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on September 23, 2015, Pope Francis blessed the preliminary segment of mosaic created for the Trinity Dome containing the words of the beginning and end of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God.” “Amen.”
The Virgin of Candelaria or Our Lady of Candelaria (Spanish: Virgen de Candelaria or Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria), popularly called La Morenita, celebrates the Virgin Mary on the island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands (Spain). The center of worship is located in the city of Candelaria in Tenerife. She is depicted as a Black Madonna. The “Royal Basilica Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Candelaria” (Basilica of Candelaria) is considered the main church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Canary Islands and she is the patron saint of the Canary Islands.
Before leaving, Najwa wanted to fill out the guestbook. There was a moment that we had to have a little “talk” because she was getting restless. She was acting up, but that’s what kids do when they’re bored. She eventually got her composure but she had a suggestion for the Catholic Church to make the place more fun for kids.