Saturday, August 25: At 1:00, we get a tour of the Franciscan Monastery Church which turns out to be surprisingly stunning inside. The general architectural outline of the church is Byzantine, after the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul), with some modified Romanesque influences.. The layout follows the lines of the Five-fold Cross, which formed the coat-of-arms of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The large cross constitutes the main body of the Church and the small crosses the Chapels.
The Chapel of St. Joseph is dedicated to the memory of the foster-father of Jesus.
The Chapel of the Sacred Heart features Jesus enthroned as the “King and Center of All Hearts.”
The Altar of Cavalry is a replica of the original in Jerusalem. In the large Crucifixion panel, the disciples are to the right of Jesus. St. John and the Blessed Mother stand beside the Cross, while Mary Magdalen kneels at its foot. The penitent thief looks pleadingly toward the Savior. To the left of Jesus are his enemies and the unrepentant thief, shadowed in darkness. In the background is the Holy City of Jerusalem.
According to our guide, the Altar is built at the exact height of Cavalry in Jerusalem.
From the top of the Altar of Cavalry, I get a great view of the whole church and especially the main altar. This majestic altar, dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, forms the nucleus around which all the other altars of the church face. It stands exactly in the center of the church under the central dome.
From the floor, I get a good view of the main altar and the canopy with its brilliant enamel design of the Virgin Mary and words of the Ave Maria on the inside. She is shown praying to the Holy Trinity for mankind’s salvation. This arched canopy is so tall that one can look through it from any side and see views of the altars and paintings in all of the various chapels and galleries.
Each of the four bronze pillars has figures of three of the twelve apostles.
Directly opposite the Altar of Cavalry, on the other side of the main altar is the Holy Sepulchre, a replica of the sacred tomb of Jesus as it is in Jerusalem. Before this shrine is the Stone of the Anointing, a replica of that which marks the place where the body of Christ was anointed before his burial. According to the guide, this Stone of Anointing is placed at the exact distance from the Altar of Cavalry that the same stone in Jerusalem is placed from the real Cavalry.
Up a double staircase that goes up either side of the Holy Sepulchre is the Chapel of the Transfiguration, a great relief panel that represents Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Thabor.
The Chapel of the Holy Ghost is surrounded on the left side by Christ sending out his disciples two at a time to preach the Gospel and on the right by St. Francis of Assisi sending out the Friars to preach.
The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin has a beautiful statue representing the Mother of Jesus.
The guide tells us that normally, when we see statues or pictures of the Virgin Mary, she is stepping on a serpent. After the stones were laid for this church, near the base of the altar of the Virgin, a stone with a fossil of two snakes was found. The Franciscan Friars insist it was not purposely placed there, but the guide says it seems to have been “providentially” placed there.
The Church is magnificent and I’m thrilled to have come to this place today. I never knew there was a Church with so many replicas of Holy Land shrines right here in Washington, D.C. !