Still dazed by the Byzantine glory of the Franciscan Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre, I followed the guide as he led the way down to the Lower Church via a staircase off-limits to the general public. The archway above the staircase was emblazoned with a single word: Nazareth.
At the bottom was a replica of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth; the spot where Mary said yes to the Arch Angel Gabriel. The level of detail was extraordinary, even down to a vandalized pillar – apparently thieves in Nazareth smashed the pillars because they thought that jewels were hidden inside.
Then we were off exploring the dark, meandering tunnels of an elaborate maze of faux catacombs. The original catacombs in Rome provided refuge for early Christians and were extensive underground networks. These catacombs, in the heart of Washington DC, had an eerie authenticity to them; dimly lit, with dark, gaping recesses on either side waiting for bodies. There were crypts along the way, two of which contained the remains of saints who had originally been buried in the catacombs.
We emerged from the darkness into an underground chapel complete with ornate altar and intricate mosaics lining the walls….
…through dim passageways and rooms covered with early Christian graffiti and artwork…
…and finally, dramatically, we entered the Grotto of the Nativity.
I climbed up the spiral stairs leading from the grotto, which had holes in the steps to provide underground ventilation, and took a last look back; still trying to process this bizarre journey.
In order to create accurate reproductions, the founder of the monastery, Fr. Godfrey Schilling, travelled to the original shrines to take extensive measurements and photographs. The phenomenal design is the work of architect Aristide Leonori, who was also responsible for the Basilica Church San Guiseppe al Trionfale in Rome and the Church of St. Joseph in Cairo. This place worked its magic on me so completely that I was genuinely startled to step back out into the hustle and bustle of DC. It was the most surreal experience I’ve had in quite a while, and I felt oddly dislocated; pleasurably out of place in space and time.
You won’t find this remarkable place on the usual must-see list of Washington DC, but it was one of the highlights of my visit. I cannot remember how I stumbled across it, but I’m awfully glad I did. Do not miss it.
The Franciscan Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre is located at 1400 Quincy Street, a short walk from the Brookland CUA Metro stop. The H6 and 80 bus lines stop nearby. There are guided tours daily which I highly recommend, because it is the only way you will get to explore the Lower Church and the catacombs. The tours are free but donations are welcome.
WOW! How beautiful.
BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!
You would love it, Francine. Put it on your list of places to see when you’re next in DC. xxx
If I ever get to Washington DC, I’ll be going to see this! Thank you for letting us know about this.
You’re welcome, Denise – and let me know when you visit, because I guarantee you’ll be blogging about it, and I’d love to read your post too! xxx Ailsa
This is wonderful. Thanks for sharing
Happy you enjoyed it, scrapydo, it was such a surprise to find it in the middle of DC.
Fascinating stuff and beautiful pics as usual:-)
Aww, thanks cocoa! 😉
You are an incredible photographer. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your kind words, Trinity, and for stopping by to say hello! Glad you enjoyed my little visit to a most unexpected place 😉
Just amazing. Your photos are fabulous! Just showed my husband this and the other post. We’re boarding the H6 bus!!!!
Yeah! Have fun, let me know how you get on. xxx Ailsa
Wonderful photos, ailsa. Thanks for sharing your awesome experience. Yes, I can imagine how strange it must have been to step back into the busy city.
It was a very surreal experience, ad, and an awful lot of fun 🙂
It’s amazing and beautiful but also quite bizarre,i can imagine how disorientated you felt coming outside!
The tour only lasted about an hour, Gilly, but we went through so many shrines and tunnels and grottos that it felt like we’d just done a whirlwind tour through Italy and Israel, with France and Turkey thrown in for good measure.
What a wonderful trip through your photos! Thank you!
Thanks, Annie. If you make it to DC on your travels, put this on your list! xxx
It’s really wonderful, and so surprising, when you come across these transplanted islands of faithful recreation in parts of the ‘new world’, isn’t it? Really amazing, Ailsa … see why you were so taken by the monastery, and its crypt.
I was so excited when I happened across this fabulous place, it’s these kind of discoveries that make travel so much fun 🙂
You’re right – the serendipitous discoveries are the memories most precious to us – because they’re our discoveries, not something everyone else has seen. There’s also the joy of sharing something new with people. What a fine thing blogging is 🙂
wow … what a cool place! At first I thought you actually were in Nazareth! In Washington, D.C. — who knew?
Really cool, Stephen, the level of detail they went to when recreating these shrines is extraordinary. Trippy experience, and really fun. xxx
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Hmmm. Very elaborate, but … does it really feel authentic? More in the nature of a religious spectacle, or a fair. Though of course the originals themselves become inauthentic very quickly, once they are ‘discovered’. The whole paradox of organised religion, in a rather splendid nutshell. Next stop, the Reformation. Thanks for your like too!
Oddly enough, even though this place could be misconstrued as ‘Disney does the Holy Land’ it came across as relatively authentic. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that it is very much a functioning place of worship and a destination for pilgrimage rather than tourism. You raise a good point about the commercialization of pilgrimage destinations, so in that light, I don’t think this is any less authentic than the sites it replicates. Thanks for checking out my site, I enjoyed your post on the Old Cathedral on Guanabara Bay.