Saturday, August 25: Inspired by Ailsa, an Irish girl who is currently traveling in America, I visit today the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. I follow Ailsa’s blog: Where’s my backpack? and I was surprised when she wrote a couple of posts about the Franciscan Monastery. I’ve lived in the Washington area for well over 20 years, and I never knew it existed!! It’s funny how sometimes when you live in a place, you don’t notice the things that are right in your backyard!
The Franciscan Monastery Memorial Church of the Holy Land sits on a quietly secluded hillside in the Brookland suburb of Washington. Following the example of Franciscan tradition, the Friars selected a hill for the site of their Monastery, naming it Mount Saint Sepulchre, in honor of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America)
The Monastery and its shrines were conceived by the Reverend Father Godfrey Schilling in 1897 for three purposes: 1) to train the American Franciscan missionaries to preserve the Shrines of the Holy Land and perform other charitable works in the Holy Land; 2) to provide a place in the USA for people who don’t have the time, money or health to visit the Shrines of the Holy Land or the Catacombs of Rome; and 3) to provide financial support through charitable contributions for the charitable works of the Franciscans in the Holy Land. The Monastery was completed in 1899. What was once 100 acres, is now a 40 acre complex, replete with gardens, the church and the Catacombs.
As I enter through the arched gateway into the Monastery, I see a bronze statue of St. Christopher, the patron of travelers, bearing the Christ Child. At this entrance I marvel at the beautiful setting of the Monastery with its ochre-colored walls and surrounding gardens and the cloister walkway.
It just so happens that I arrive about 5 minutes before 11 a.m., right before one of two garden tours the docents give weekly. How lucky is that? The tour is conducted by a member of the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild, a volunteer organization that attends to more than 700 roses in the gardens. The guild has funded new trees, azalea beds, camellia plantings and thousands of perennials. They have also installed a Biblical herb garden. Each winter they must dig out the banana plants and put them into the greenhouse, replanting them each spring in the gardens.
In the center of a circle of colorful flowers stands a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, begging a little boy not to sell into captivity some doves which he holds.
Behind St. Francis stands a statue of the founder of the Monastery, the Reverend Godfrey Schilling, OFM, holding a model of the Monastery.
Next we come to the small Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels built of rough-hewn stones. This chapel recreates the shrine near Assisi in Umbrian Italy, where St. Francis in 1207 established the Franciscan order.
Passing the Oriental Garden and the shrine to the Virgina Mary, we enter the Rosary Portico, also called the Cloister Walk, an open-air enclosure around the gardens. Within the cloister walkways are signs with the “Hail Mary” prayer in as many as 150 languages. The columns in the portico are made of concrete with an over-layer of agate stones. This gives them the appearance of mosaics, while also giving builders the ability to shape each column differently.
Walking down a hill on the outside of the Cloister Walk, we come to the Grotto of Gethsemane, a reproduction of the original grotto in the Gethsemane Valley near Jerusalem, which tradition tells afforded shelter to Christ and his apostles. It is dedicated to Christ’s suffering on the eve of his crucifixion.
The Grotto of Lourdes is a copy of the same-named grotto in Southern France, where the Virgin Mary appeared in 1858 to St. Bernadette, a young peasant girl.
The Chapel of St. Anne is dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s mother. Beneath the house is a replica of the house in Old Cairo which sheltered the Holy Family during the exile into Egypt. We cannot see this house today because it is under repair.
We pass by the outdoor Stations of the Cross, monuments to Christ’s passion and death.
The Chapel of the Ascension is like the one which the Crusaders erected over the place of Christ’s ascension on Mount Olivet.
We also come to a peaceful little pond, filled with water lilies and goldfish, created for quiet, reflective moments.
We then take a walk through the farm and the greenhouse in the back of the Monastery.
At last we come upon the Monastery cemetery, where the Friars are buried. Like at Arlington National Cemetery, all the cross-shaped gravestones are alike, no matter what job the Friars had or no matter what their social level. Some of the stones were recently knocked over in a fast-moving, aggressive thunderstorm system known as a derecho that barreled through the nation’s capital one Friday night at the end of June, causing wind damage and extensive power outages throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. I had never heard of a derecho before, but apparently it’s a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.
After the tour, I’m left to wander about on my own for a bit while waiting for the 1:00 tour of the church and the catacombs. More to follow about the Monastery Church and The Catacombs & Crypts…..