We are a church visiting family. Everywhere in the world we travel, we always make time to see a few churches. As a result, we have been to cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys, convents, temples, chapels, tabernacles, synagogues, and just about every other type of place of worship imaginable. Except for a mosque. But, we will do that someday. While living in DC we have been to the National Cathedral several times, but very few other religious buildings. DC, like many large and oldish cities, is teeming with churches, many of which are open to the public and have beautiful stained glass, artwork, and other objets d'art on display. I have recently decided I want us to see some of these churches before we leave for China next year, so to that end, earlier this week we visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
I have wanted to visit the Basilica for many years and finally got my act together enough to pile the kids in the car and drive the very short 15 minutes (I know, ridiculously close!) required to get there. The boys have been along for many of our religious building excursions in the past and though they were not thrilled when I revealed our destination, they, like always, found several things of interest during our brief sojourn at the Basilica. Their less than enthusiastic reactions reminded me of a conversation Kenny and Caleb had last summer near then end of our stay in Vienna. We were talking about plans for the day and Caleb said, "Daddy, can we not go to any churches today, please? I really like churches, but if we can just do something different today I would be really happy and then we can see more churches tomorrow." Kenny, of course, granted this very polite and reasonable request and we managed to find some non-church things to do that day. Like I said, we are a church visiting family.
The Basilica is vast, not surprisingly. In fact, it is the largest Catholic Church in the US. With very few exceptions the wall and ceiling art is done in mosaics. I'm sure there is a statistic somewhere of how many colored tiles were used -- it must be in the tens of millions. Much of the art is also very obviously American. The crypt is enormous and the walls and columns are printed from floor to ceiling with thousands of names. There are dozens of chapels throughout both the upper and lower churches as well. We only paused in most of them, but each is beautiful in its own right. We did not get to see the crypt chapel because there was a mass in progress, but we had unfettered access to every other part of the building except the main altar in the upper church.
Memorial Hall in the crypt.
There are two organs in the upper church, this is the larger of the two and has nearly 1000 pipes. While we were there, an organist began to play, giving us a very pleasant and unexpected surprise.
This mosaic is the "Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome."
There were marble columns everywhere in the upper church -- clearly no expense was spared during construction. This one in particular was gargantuan.
"Christ in Majesty" -- the mosaic in the North Apse.
The mosaic from the West Apse, it is called "Woman Clothed with the Sun," but Caleb and Isaac preferred to refer to it as "the dragon one."
An example of gorgeous mosaic detail.
The interior view from the dome crossing, you can see the altar in the distance.
"Our Lady of China" -- we couldn't pass up the photo op.
Cooperative and happy Claire resting on a pew.
Another stunningly detailed mosaic.
"Mary, Queen of Ireland" scupture where we stopped to
throw wishes in the fountain.
Varicolored marble columns.
And even more varieties of marble.
Another example of a beautiful mosaic.