If you thought the USA wasn't home to a Roman Catholic Church that could rival the stature of the famous basilicas in Europe, you haven't seen the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (also known as "America's Catholic Church"). The 72-meter tall church—located in the heart of Washington, D.C and close to the Catholic University of America’s campus—is the largest Catholic church in North America, and of the 10 largest churches in the world.
Styled in a Byzantine Revival Romanesque design, the church houses over 70 chapels and oratories that weave the story of Roman Catholicism, its people, and America together. The Basilica also houses the largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art (which means works relating to the church) in the world, and was designed originally by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a National Sanctuary for Prayer and Pilgrimage for American Roman Catholics in the early 1920s. In August 2006, the basilica erected a mosaic dome to replace its former dome – the first of many modern changes to its original architectural plans.
Built over a span of 30 years, due in part to delays caused by the Great Depression, this basilica’s dimensions are massive, and can easily dethrone those of many other cathedrals in the world. According to the National Shrine's website, the basilica is 25 percent longer than St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and its dome is more than twice the size of the central dome of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy. The Shrine, not the U.S. Capitol, is the tallest building in Washington, DC, and attracts approximately one million visitors annually.
Pope Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and recently Pope Francis on 23 September 2015 have prayed, blessed, and graced the doors of this basilica. Pope Francis, in particular, has also blessed the basilica’s priest, Junipeno Serra, as the first American saint. The church was also the site of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral mass.
Open 365 days a year, the sacred church offers six masses, five hours of Confession, and weekly and seasonal Devotions to people of all faiths internationally. Unlike other churches—who prefer to not mix spirituality with technology—this basilica also allows visitors who can’t come in-person to request prayers, light candles, or request a Spiritual Enrollment by going online.
Sure to captivate history, jewelry and religious lovers, the basilica also houses the ultimate Catholic treasure on its crypt level: The Papal Tiara of Pope Paul VI. But the neatest thing about the National Shrine isn’t its possession of the Papal Tiara or its classification as one of the ten largest churches in the world, it’s the fact that the Vatican acknowledged its stature by enshrining its name with a marker on the floor of the famous St.Peter’s Basilica.
So take a road trip down to Michigan Ave NE, bask in the magnificence of this basilica, and stroll through it without entrance fees by yourself or take one of its six daily group tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.