Saturday, May 24: Today, I go with a photography group to visit the Franciscan Monastery in Washington. I already wrote about it a post in August 2011 (the franciscan monastery in washington: gardens & shrines), and I don’t want to repeat myself, so if you’d like to know more of the history, you can check out the earlier post. For today, I’ll simply post some pictures from this beautiful May morning.
To see a slide show, just click on any of the images below.
Saturday, August 25: The catacombs in the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. are “faithful copies of those in Rome,” according to a publication by the Monastery. Many scholars have written that the Roman catacombs came about to help persecuted Christians to bury their dead secretly.
The Martyr’s Crypt in the catacombs is a circular chapel much like those found in the maze-like hiding places of the early Christians. Here the relics of St. Benignus, brought from the Roman Catacombs, are encased in the wax figure beneath the altar.
From this crypt, a short passageway leads to the Chapel of Purgatory. This chapel is dedicated to the faithful departed and is meant to remind us of the fleeting nature of this life. The paintings and decorations are symbolic of death and of the life to come.
Here the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for the souls of those “who have gone before with the Sign of Faith and who sleep the sleep of peace.”
Beyond the Purgatory Chapel are two chapels typical of the larger ones of the ancient catacombs — those dedicated to St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Soldier and Martyr. Both have altars which house faithful replicas of statues found in Rome.
On the walls of the chamber between these two chapels are some beautiful paintings.
We end our time inside the Monastery catacombs in the Nativity Grotto, faithfully reproduced here as it exists now in Bethlehem. The altar in the center niche is like that of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Beneath the altar is a silver star which commemorates the spot where Christ was born.
The Bethlehem Grotto is hung with garlands from Christmas; the guide tells us that people who have been to Bethlehem and who come to this grotto say it looks just like Bethlehem, except without the garlands.
Finally, we climb out of the catacombs and explore the church on our own. It’s difficult to get a good photo of the beautiful stained glass windows, but I finally get one that’s passable.
St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, is the patron saint of animals and the environment and is one of the two patrons of Italy, along with Catherine of Siena. He is also known for his love of the Eucharist, for his sorrow at the Stations of the Cross, and for the creation of the Christmas Nativity Scene.
St. Francis, born around 1181, was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi and lived the high life as a young man. When he went off to war in 1204, he was directed in a vision to return to Assisi, where he lost his taste for the worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he begged with beggars at St. Peter’s and decided to adopt a life of poverty.
St. Francis believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and even preached to the birds. He was known for his great love of animals and he had a deep sense of brotherhood that led him to embrace those for whom Christ died. It’s argued that, more than any other man, he imitated the life, and carried out the work, of Christ in the footsteps and manner of the Savior.
He called the Holy Land the “Pearl of the Missions,” since Jesus was born, lived, ministered and died there. In 1217 the Province of the Holy Land was established, which included then and still includes today Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and the islands of Cyprus and Rhodes. St. Francis visited the Holy Land in 1219, during which time he tried, unsuccessfully, to convert the Sultan in Egypt. In 1224, he received the stigmata, making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ’s passion. He died in 1226 while preaching Psalm 141.
The Franciscans have succeeded for over 750 years in the conquest and preservation of the Holy Places in the Holy Land.
Saturday, August 25: At 1:00, we get a tour of the FranciscanMonastery 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.
TheChapel 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. !
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…..