Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Washington, D.C., United States

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic church in the United States and North America, one of the ten largest churches in the world, and the tallest habitable building in Washington, D.C. Construction of this church, notable for its Neo-Byzantine architecture, began in 1920 under Philadelphia contractor John McShain. It opened unfinished in 1959. An estimated one million pilgrims visit the basilica each year.

The basilica is designated both as the national and patronal Catholic Church of the United States, honoring the Virgin Mary, under the title Immaculate Conception, by which Pope Pius XI donated a mosaic of the same image in 1923.

The basilica houses 70 chapels honoring Mary and reflecting the origins of the Catholic immigrants and religious orders whose generosity erected them. Its Greek-styled interior is crowned with numerous domes decorated in mosaics, similar to the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, Italy, but much larger. The mosaics feature American renditions of traditional Catholic images. Artist Jan Henryk De Rosen, who presided over the shrine's iconography committee was also responsible for much of its decor, including composing the large mosaic over the northern apse.

The exterior of the basilica is 152m long, 73m wide, and 72 m tall to the top of the cross on the dome. The shrine was built in the style of medieval churches, relying on masonry walls and columns in place of structural steel and reinforced concrete. It was designed to hold 10,000 worshipers.

In all, 70 chapels and sacred images flank the sides of the upper church and crypt. It contains many works of art. There are arches outlined with iridescent Pewabic Pottery tile, large ceramic medallions set in the ceiling, and fourteen Stations of the Cross for the crypt.



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Founded: 1920
Category: Religious sites in United States


4.8/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Margarita Abbey (18 months ago)
It's a beautiful and peaceful place to visit Free parking close to the building is hard to get. But if you want to pay for parking there is a limited number of parking slots. For free parking you have to park in the big lot a walking distance from the Basilica.
Pete Ramsey (18 months ago)
The Basilica is an amazing place to visit, regardless of your religious preferences. There's a lot to take in, from architecture to religious iconography to a decent bookstore and cafeteria. Services occur regularly and the schedule is posted to their website. Parking is easy and free, or you can walk several blocks from the Catholic University stop on the Metro Red line.
Manuel Pedraza (19 months ago)
Whether you are Catholic or not, this place is truly a spiritual experience. The atmosphere is so grand and spectacular that as soon as you open the door and get in you become speechless. Specially during the mass, which is the most captivating I've ever been in my life thanks to the incredible acoustics of the basilica and the otter-worldy use of chorus and the organ. It's truly epic and an absolute must for DC tourism.
Tony Maina (19 months ago)
This is auguably the most magnificent Basilica around...the art is exquisite, the architecture flawless and astounding. I cannot say enough about this place. For the spiritual, certainly, a new beginning and understand of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. If you are in Washington, DC...a visit will be quite rewarding.
Deborah McPartlan (2 years ago)
Gorgeous structure with multiple levels, it is truly worth seeing if you are in the DC area. There are churches on two levels that provide lovely services. There are 2 gift shops on the lower level as well as a small cafeteria. You can spend the day here and not be disappointed or bored.
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