Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl stood atop a massive structure of steel scaffolding some 159 feet above the church floor on October 28, 2016 to bless the Trinity Dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. “If we were to have a hymn to open this entire celebration, I think it would be ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee,’ ” joked His Eminence Cardinal Wuerl. “This is about as close as we are going to get physically to that experience.” The 45 minute ceremony marked not only the completion of the scaffolding on which Wuerl, and 100 news media, workers and staff stood but also the beginning of the end of 100 years of construction on the country’s largest Catholic church, where Pope Francis canonized a Spanish missionary last year. (more…)
The Crowning Jewel
Nearly a century in the making, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has been a work in progress since the laying of its foundation stone in 1920. This great Marian shrine, dedicated to the patroness of the United States, is a testament to the faith and generosity of generations of American Catholics.
Now, as the 100th Anniversary approaches, a monumental effort is underway to complete America’s Catholic Church, according to its original plan, with the ornamentation of what will be the crowning jewel of Mary’s Shrine, the Trinity Dome.
According to the original iconographic scheme,the Trinity Dome will be adorned in mosaic and depict the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a procession of saints. The Nicene Creed will encircle the dome, while the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, will be featured in the Dome’s pendentives.
A Picture Perfect Day
Pope Francis arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on September 23, 2015, a picture perfect day with sunshine, blue skies, and a crowd of 25,000 faithful to greet him. As the Holy Father approached Mary’s Shrine in the Popemobile, the bells of the Knights Carillon rang jubilantly and thousands on the front steps of the Basilica welcomed him. Before entering the National Shrine, Pope Francis drove not once, but twice through the crowd on the Basilica’s East Side where the Canonization Mass of Junípero Serra would later be held. The detour back through the crowd was not according to plan, and the unscheduled second pass-through was a surprise to security. However, given the Holy Father’s penchant for spontaneity and his love of people, perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise after all.
Trinity Dome Planning Underway
This year, we begin our five-year countdown to the centenary of the laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Shrine. During this time we hope to complete the National Shrine in its totality, specifically, the interior design of the National Shrine. The Trinity or Great Dome is the final movement in what the founder, Bishop Shahan, referred to as a great “Hymn in Stone.”
The general concept governing the iconographic scheme of the entire Shrine was outlined and established by the first Iconography Committee (1954-1958), chaired by Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle (1896-1987), Archbishop of Washington, John de Rosen (1891-1982) art consultant, and composed of scholars in ecclesiastical art, scripture, theology, and Mariology.
In 2006 and 2007, the north (Redemption) and south (Incarnation) nave domes were completed, respectively. Each dome contains 3,780 square feet of mosaic and rises to a height of 100 feet. The Great Trinity Dome, situated at the center of the cruciform Upper Church, is almost five times the size of one of these domes with 19,673 square feet, rising to a height of 129 feet.