Thursday, July 1, 2010

Franciscan Monastery - Reflective Gardens and Grounds

I'm an ardent pantheist, tilting towards Agnostic but I've always enjoyed architecture and art of all faiths. One of my collecting hobbies led me to discover a site that serves as a pilgrimage site for many and was once was among DC most sought after attractions. The Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre was designated a National Historic Site in 1991, and has been a place of worship and pilgrimage for thousands of visitors since the church's dedication in 1899.

I collect old postcards of Washington and one evening as I sorted through cards from the 1920's I noticed many depicting a monastic grounds and gardens that I had to find. Realizing this site was not far from from my home I set a course for the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, the central focal point of Catholicism in Washington that includes the Catholic University of America, the National Shrine, Trinity University and many other sites. The Monastery proved an elusive quarry initially - it's tucked in a maze of residential streets on top of a hill overlooking the Catholic University. Finding it in the spring time was a extra stroke of luck - the gardens were overflowing with so many Tulips I thought I was in a Dutch wholesale flower market.

My favorite activity here is to stroll the Rosary Portico which surrounds the church and has 15 chapels commemorating the lives of Jesus and Mary. Each chapel contains artistic ceramic plaques bearing the Angelic Greeting in nearly 200 ancient and modern languages. The Rosary Portico is reminiscent of the cloister of St. John Lateran in Rome and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls - a portion of which appears in the right hand portion of the below photo.

The fa├žade of the portico is decorated with early Christian symbols from the Catacombs. Attached to the rear of the church is the monastery, built in the monastic style of the late Romanesque.

Venture deeper into the grounds and explore the the replicas of shrines in the Holy Land, as well as a greenhouse.

In 1880, the Reverend Charles Vassani established the Commissariat of the Holy Land in New York with a grand plan to build a “Holy Land in America” and a Holy Sepulchre, which they envisioned crowning a high hill on Staten Island, overlooking the entrance to New York’s harbor - now that would have been easy to find! This plan never was realized but but Fr. Vassani and Fr. Schilling did realize their dream on a wooded hilltop in Brookland in 1897. Once you step through the gates the distractions and worries of the material world slip away and the blood pressure immediately drops - the same effect as a night of drinking - without the hangover.

The Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre was designed by the Roman architect Aristide Leonori, and built in 1898-99. The floor plan of the church is the five-fold Crusader Cross of Jerusalem, and it is built in the Byzantine style, after the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul), with some modified Romanesque influences. Every building utilizes the tan colored bricks which somehow fell out a favor as a building material but lends a distinctly Italian flair.

The Monastery is located in the Brookland neigborhood of Washington DC, about 3 miles north of Union Station - The easiest way to find driving directions is to first locate the Catholic University of America.

Via Metro, Exit at the Brookland Station on the Redline - direction Silver Spring and head East uphill after crossing Michigan Ave. and locating Quincy Street - just under a mile walk.

From the Catholic University of America
Washington, District of Columbia 20017

Head northeast on Michigan Ave NE toward Monroe St NE

Turn right at Quincy St NE Destination will be on the left


At the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the public is welcome to join in celebrating the Mass daily, and has special services for Christmas, Easter and other holy days.

1400 Quincy St., N.E.
Washington, DC 20017

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