The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is one of the destinations visited by Pope Francis during his visit to Washington D.C., the capital of the United States of America.
It is not just a church but a real sanctuary with an attached Catholic University. It can be reached in 10 minutes by underground from the city center and is worth a visit. In the United States, it is the largest Roman Catholic church. It is also one of the ten largest churches in the world. This church is dedicated to the patroness of the United States of America, Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception.
It is estimated that over one million pilgrims visit this place every year. Built-in the Byzantine-Romanesque style, its construction began in 1920 but was stopped in 1929 due to the great economic depression that had affected the country. After the war, then, in 1953, the then archbishop of Washington began a fundraiser to resume the construction which was definitively completed in 1959.
Inside there are over 80 chapels all dedicated to a different cult of the Madonna, decorated with splendid mosaics. The mosaic in the central apse depicts the Pantocrator. Among the things present inside the Shrine, there is the tiara of Pope Paul VI, who, after abandoning the tiara in 1964, decided to auction the precious headdress to obtain money to donate to the poor. The object was purchased by the cardinal archbishop of Washington Francis Joseph Spellman and has since been exhibited in the basilica.
The numbers of this place of worship, raised to the rank of Basilica by St. John Paul II in 1990, are particularly impressive. 140 meters long, over 70 wide, 100 meters is the height of the external bell tower while the dome reaches 72 meters, the central nave is 48 meters wide, in short, truly incredible numbers.
A curiosity: despite being a basilica and despite having a very important role in the economy of the Catholic Church in America, it is not the cathedral of Washington DC. To cover this role is the church of San Matteo Apostolo which is located in the city center.
The main facade of the sanctuary, overlooking a large square and is preceded by a triple flight of stairs: the first leads to an intermediate level, the second to the churchyard, which rests directly on the base inside which there is the crypt, and the third at the entrance to the church.
At the center of the facade there is a wide round arch about 31 meters high flanked by two ribs with bas-reliefs depicting 26 saints; they, on the two ribs, only arranged on two columns side by side with 6 saints each. In the external one, there are the prophets, in the internal one the apostles. Above, larger than the others, St. Peter the Apostle (left) and St. Paul the Apostle (right) are depicted. In the lower part of the arch, there is the narthex, surmounted by a statue of the Immaculate Conception between two angels; in the narthex, there are three portals and the central one, larger than the two side ones, is flanked by carved bas-reliefs.
The two facades of the transept are both preceded by a small portico having, on the front, three-round arches resting on Corinthian columns resting on pillars.
At the intersection of the central nave with the transept, the dome rises. It consists of a circular drum surrounded by a continuous loggia made up of four-light windows supported by columns. The hemispherical roof is covered with polychrome tiles forming geometric designs in which various Marian symbols are depicted, including the Marian monogram and the lily.
To the left of the basilica stands the bell tower which, with its 100 meters, makes the sanctuary the tallest building of worship in the city of Washington. The bell tower is characterized.