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History of The Basilica
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The Basilica


The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States and is one of the largest churches in the world.
The National Shrine is designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage.
The largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art in the world.
The National Shrine is open 365 days a year and features daily guided tours and operates a Catholic Gift Shop, a Catholic Book Store, and a cafeteria.


Address: 400 Michigan Avenue NE Washington, DC 20017 (202)526-8300
Website: www.nationalshrine.com
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Pilgrimage to:
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

In celebration of the Year of Faith, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., The pilgrimage will be a day-long journey of faith to honor Mary, to seek her help and protection and to ask God to shower upon us His spirit for our earthly life here on Long Island.

History of the Basilica

In 1846, an excerpt from a Massachusetts newspaper told of "a magnificent Catholic church [to] be built at Washington, D.C. after the manner of the great cathedrals of the Old World from subscriptions of every Catholic Parish in America.”
Spanning the late 19th, 20th and now 21st century, American Catholics would indeed build a sanctuary that rivals those of Europe and the world, not only in size but in stature as well—in sacred art, architecture, history and heritage. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, the Basilica is the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine. With over 70 chapels and oratories that relate to the peoples, cultures and traditions that are the tapestry of the Catholic faith and the mosaic of our great nation, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is indeed, America’s Catholic church. A work in progress to this day, we invite you to come make history with us!

 

Sacred Art
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception contains the world’s largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art. The Basilica’s artistic embellishment, both inside and out, is in keeping with the Romanesque-Byzantine style of its architecture. Romanesque art is very enthusiastic in its use of figurative or stone sculpting. The exterior of the Basilica contains both heroic size figures of saints and finely sculpted tympana and archways. Tympana sculpted in relief ornament the interior east and west entrances and various niches in the nave and chancel areas. Stained and faceted glass windows decorate both the Upper and Lower Church areas. Byzantine art is remarkable in its use of mosaic and marble. Above the spring line, this includes the mosaic ornamentation of the seven main domes along the many side chapels and oratories. The current calculation of the mosaic interior of the Basilica is 75,545 sq. ft. Below the spring line, the church is adorned with beautiful marble claddings. The finer marbles open out allowing the marble veining to form symmetrical patterns. The brilliant mosaics, stained glass windows, and polished stone carvings throughout the Basilica, and in its more than 70 Chapels and Oratories, express the reality of God dwelling with us. Dominating the North Apse of the Great Upper Church is the Byzantine style mosaic Christ in Majesty. It is one of the largest mosaic images of Jesus Christ in the world and contains more than 4000 shades and colors. Other mosaic images depict the Creation of the World, the Incarnation, Redemption, the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the Last Judgment. The Basilica’s Crypt Church is modeled after the Early Christian Catacombs. Its characteristic Roman arches are supported by 10-ton granite columns and form two Guastavino tile domes, which are complemented by the unique ceramic artistry of Mary Chase Stratton. While Guastavino (Catalan) vaulting and Mary Chase Stratton (Pewabic) ceramics are featured independently in structures throughout the United States, even in the U.S. Capitol, it is only at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where these two artists and art forms found their unique artistic expression in concert with each other.

Architecture

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is neither imitative nor duplicative of any other church in the world. Its architecture is Romanesque-Byzantine in style and its construction is entirely of stone, brick, tile and mortar—without steel structural beams, framework or columns.

Romanesque architecture is defined by its massive size, thick walls, arches, piers, groin vaults, towers and ornamented ambulatories. The form of the structure is clearly defined and symmetrical. In comparison to Gothic structures, a Romanesque church is quite simple in appearance.

Byzantine architecture in the West was superseded by that of the Romanesque style. The dome is the dominant feature in Byzantine architecture and is one of the great advances in church architecture fostered by the Byzantine style. A circular or elliptical dome was placed over a square or rectangular room by means of pendentives, the triangular construction of which strengthened and supported the base that holds the dome.

The original design for the Shrine (1914-1915) was that of a 14th Century French Gothic structure. In 1918, the Building Committee and the CUA Board of Trustees determined that in order "to provide a worthy church edifice for the University," the church should be built in the Romanesque style, "liberally interpreted." One year later, the architectural style agreed upon was a composite of a Romanesque exterior and a Byzantine interior. Charles D. Maginnis (1867-1955), "an architect of churches," stated that his aim was to achieve an original building; one that was not imitative of Haggia Sophia in Istanbul, the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, or the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. The building was to be sunk in tradition, but not "just like such and such a cathedral." It was to be "distinctively American," symbolizing the faith and love for Mary of an entire and great nation.

The reasons, as cited by the Architects, for the Romanesque-Byzantine style are as follows:

1) Experience of the architect; this style permitted the building of the exterior at one time, the interior at another.

2) Romanesque-Byzantine style harmonized best with the architecture of Washington, D.C.

3) Construction at Mount St. Alban's in Washington of the Episcopalian cathedral in the Gothic style.

4) Influence of John J. Cardinal Glennon (1862-1946), Archbishop of St. Louis, member of the CUA Board of Trustees and a close friend of Bishop Shahan and Charles Maginnis, who strongly preferred Romanesque: "While the Gothic . . . appears . . . to lift the people to God, the Roman style or the Byzantine . . . endeavors to bring God down to earth . . . [God] lives with us." The "new" cathedral in St. Louis, cornerstone laid in 1907--same year as that of the National Cathedral in Washington--is in the Romanesque-Byzantine style.

Architects
1919 - 1936 Maginnis and Walsh of Boston, with associate Frederick V. Murphy, Professor of Architecture at CUA.
Timothy F. Walsh (b. 1868 - d. 7 July 1934, North Scituate, MA)
Frederick Vernon Murphy (1879 - 1958)
1954 - 1959 Maginnis and Walsh and Kennedy of Boston, active architect: Eugene F. Kennedy, Jr.
Charles D. Maginnis (b. 7 Jan 1867, Londonderry, Ireland; d. 15 Feb 1955, Brookline, MA)
Eugene F. Kennedy Jr. (b. 31 Jan 1904, Brooklyn, NY - d. 7 Nov 1986, MA)

Builders
1922 - 1925 Charles J. Cassidy Co., Washington, D.C.
1925 - 1928 R. P. Whitty Co., Washington, D.C.
1928 - 1933 John McCloskey & Co., Philadelphia, PA
1954 - 1959 John McShain, Inc., Philadelphia, PA
John McShain (b. 21 Dec 1898, Philadelphia - d. 9 Sept 1989, Killarney, Ireland)
1960 - 1961 John A. Volpe Construction Co.

Dimensions

The Shrine stands more than 200 ft. above sea level.

Exterior
Length: 459 ft.
Width including transepts and porches: 240 ft.
Width at the nave: 157 ft.
Height of campanile (to top of cross): 329 ft.
Height terrace to apex of main roof gable: 120 ft.
Height terrace to the top of the great dome cross: 237 ft.
Diameter of the Great Dome: 108 ft.

Interior
Length: 399 ft.
Width at the crossing and transepts: 180 ft.
Width at the nave: 58 ft.
Width at the nave and two side aisles: 87 ft.
Height, nave floor to the apex of the nave domes: 100 ft.
Height, nave floor to the apex of the Trinity or Great Dome: 159 ft.
Diameter of the Trinity or Great Dome: 89 ft.
Gross floor area of the Great or Upper Church 76,396 sq. ft.
Gross floor area of the Lower Level, including Crypt Church 129,912 sq. ft.
Seating capacity, Upper Church (approximate): 3,500 persons
Total capacity, Upper Church (approximate): 6,000 persons

 

The Shrine ranks in size among the ten largest churches of the world.

It is larger in length, by more than 25%, than the corresponding proportions of the Cathedral of St. Patrick in New York.

The diameter of the Trinity or Great Dome of the National Shrine is more than twice that of the central dome of St. Mark's in Venice, Italy.

Construction
Exterior walls: Indiana Limestone (350 train carloads)
Lower areas, e.g., steps: New England Granite
Roof: Mission tile
Great Dome and Campanile pyramid: Polychrome tiles
Common brick: 10 million
Face brick: 1.5 million
Concrete: 10,000 cubic yards
Heating System: Radiant Heat (6 miles of pipe beneath 50,000 sq. ft. of marble flooring)
Nave lighting: 21 spotlights of 500-Watts in each dome
Great Dome lighting: 37 spotlights of 500-Watts and a circlet of 18 spotlights of 1000-Watts

Exterior Iconographic Schemes
East Facade: Faith
West Facade: Charity
South Facade: Mary, the Mother of Christ, the Messiah and the Divine Redeemer
North Facade: Mary, the Immaculate Queen of the Universe by Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962)

Questions and inquiries may be addressed to the ARCHIVIST of the BNSIC.

Architecture

 


Glossary
Ambulatory A covered walkway or aisle that makes the circuit of the nave and apses of the Upper Church, with chapels radiating to the east, the west, and to the north.
Apse The vaulted, semi-circular areas to the east, west and north of the sanctuary in the Upper Curch.
Baldachin [baldacchin, baldachino, baldaquin] The free-standing canopy of four columns and arches above the altar in the sanctuary of the Upper Church. The term comes from the Spanish baldaquin or the Italian baldacco, which refers to the lavish brocaded material imported from Baghdad and hung as a canopy over an altar or doorway. The term also applies to the canopy used in Eucharistic processions and to that which covers the episcopal throne or cathedra. The most famous of baldachins is that of Bernini (1598-1680) in the Basilica of St. Peter.
Chancel In the Upper Church it is the area between the baldachin altar and the main altar.
Clerestory That part of the Shrine, which would be a second "story" and "clear" of the floor, thereby allowing an unobstructed view of the roof. The large windows above the nave are Clerestory Windows.
Galleries Spans the width of the narthex, the length of the nave and the chancel area. Located in the south gallery above the narthex are the Rose Window (Ave Maria), the South Gallery Organ (1965 by M. P. Möller, Op. 9702) and the bank of pontifical trumpets; in the east and west nave and the chancel galleries are the clerestory windows; in the west chancel gallery is the Chancel Organ (Möller, Op. 9702).
Narthex The area of the church extending across the south side, between the nave and the vestibule. In former days, it was the area reserved for the penitents and catechumens.
Nave From the Latin navis for "ship." The central open space of the church, traditionally for the worshipping community. It is believed that in early Christianity, the symbolism of the ship related to St. Peter or the Ark of Noah.
Sanctuary The area in which the baldachin altar is located.
Transept A rectangular area which cuts across the main axis of the building. It gives the Shrine the shape of a Latin cross.
Vestibule The area between the main outer doors and the main inner doors which lead into the narthex.


Our Lady of Lourds Shrine

Historic Highlights

In 1847, at the petition of the bishops of the United States, Pope Pius IX named the Blessed Virgin Mary patroness of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1913, Pope Pius X approved plans for the building of a national shrine in the United States, and made a personal contribution for its construction.

The cornerstone of the National Shrine was laid in 1920.

The first Mass was held on Easter Sunday 1924.

1n 1926, the Crypt Church was completed.

The remainder of the Crypt level was completed in 1931.

The Depression and World War II halted construction of the Shrine’s Great Upper Church superstructure.

With the end of World War II and the prosperity of the post war years, construction resumed in the Marian Year of 1954.

The superstructure or the Great Upper Church was completed in 1959. The National Shrine was dedicated on November 20, 1959.

Embellishment and ornamentation of the interior of the National Shrine has continued since.

On October 7, 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first reigning Pope to visit the National Shrine. In the Great Upper Church, he proclaimed:

“This Shrine speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from the various countries of the Old World. When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love for the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands. These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a Mother they all had in common. While their faith in Christ made all of them aware of being one People of God, this awareness became all the more vivid through the presence of the Mother in the work of Christ and the Church.”

In 1990, Pope John Paul II elevated the National Shrine to the status of a minor basilica, bestowing this papal honor for its historical importance, dignity and significance as a center of worship and devotion and as an expression of a special union with the Holy Father.

On Wednesday, April 16, 2008, the first day of his Apostolic Journey to the United States, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate Solemn Vespers and meet with the Bishops of the United States.

In his address to the Bishops in the Crypt Church of the Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI exclaimed,

“Dear Brother Bishops, it gives me great joy to greet you today at the start of my visit to this country…in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city. Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States...I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son. To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.”

Prior to his departure Pope Benedict XVI bestowed “a Golden Rose for Our Mother Mary” upon the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as a sign of his reverence, esteem and paternal affection. The Golden Rose is an honor dating back to the eleventh century and its conferral is rare and considered a great privilege.

Heritage

The United States has long and appropriately been referred to as the “great melting pot” as a place where people from many diverse lands and customs have come to dwell. The Basilica is a microcosm of this phenomenon, honoring devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary from around the world, which the generations of our immigrant population have sustained.

On October 7, 1979, Pope John Paul II, the first reigning Pope ever to visit the Basilica, proclaimed in the Great Upper Church:

“This Shrine speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from the various countries of the Old World. When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love for the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands. These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a Mother they all had in common. While their faith in Christ made all of them aware of being one People of God, this awareness became all the more vivid through the presence of the Mother in the work of Christ and the Church.”

The Basilica exemplifies the “catholicity” or universality of the Church, while echoing its unity and inclusiveness. The many chapels and oratories personify the cultural diversity of the United States and reverence that virtue which they have in common, faith.

Among the nationalities represented in the Basilica’s chapels are African, Austrian, Byzantine-Ruthenian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, and Vietnamese.

Among the religious communities represented in the Basilica are the Augustinians, Carmelites, Claretians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Montfort Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Redemptorists, Salesians, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Providence, and Vincentians.

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History of The Basilica
Our Pilgrimage toThe Basilica
Year of Faith
Photo Gallery

 

 

 

 


Pilgramage to the Bascilica Of The Immaculate Conception 2013A.D.
(photogallery)