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


4.9/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Robin Pianosi (3 months ago)
Absolutely unreal. Rivaled the Basilica in Venice. Soaring ceilings, glittering murals, comprehensive sorry telling. Very easy to spend 2 or 3 hours here, just taking everything in. I went around 1pm on a weekday, and had the place nearly to myself! There is a very, very large gift shop with many religious articles, trinkets, and books. Lovely, friendly staff. Truly an amazing stop. A must-see, regardless of faith!
Dhruv (5 months ago)
The basilica is amazing and beautiful. The free tour guide was informative and it was really beautiful with countless statues, murals, and altars. They also have various murals and altars from all across the world. The bathroom was clean and the full basilica was tidy. All in all, it was an amazing experience and I will totally recommend this place if you are around the area.
Jason Harris (7 months ago)
My second time here. Visited about 10 years ago and spent more time in the gift shop than in the church. This time I arrived at 7a and took in the serenity of the Mary Garden, the cool breeze blowing through the trees, and the squirrels playing from afar. Headed into main church and it was nice to take photos of the artwork and see the wonderful architecture inside and outside. I soent about 2 hours here and easily could have spent another two if I didn't have other plans. Well worth the visit.
Jean (7 months ago)
There are free tours hourly. Even just walking around the basilica is enough of you don't walk in. They have a book in the gift shop that explains every chapel and piece of art. Definitely worth paying $5 for. Also try and do the first tour of the day because it's usually empty. I recommend going during the week especially when school is out between May - September
Jeanette Enriquez (7 months ago)
Incredibly beautiful and detailed and will take your breath away!! The lower level has multiple chapels and has a gift shop there as well.The main level has beautiful mosaics that are very detailed. Highly recommend to visit if in the D.C. area! Free to visit and can spend at least 30 min to an hour there. There is a rosary garden that’s across the street from the basilica as well located by the visitor parking area.
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