After 97 Years, National Basilica is Finally Completed

The feast of the Immaculate Conception was the date chosen for the blessing of the final mosaic to be installed in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, which brings to an end nearly 100 years of construction.

CNA/EWTN is reporting on the completion of the mosaic which adorns the largest dome in the shrine. The mosaic pictures the Trinity, Mary, and 20 saints and blessed who share a connection either with the Americas or the Shrine.

“This magnificent tribute in stone, glass, marble mosaic to Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of God and our Mother, invites all of us to recognize not only the special role of Mary in our life but the unique glory that is hers in her Immaculate Conception,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington in his Dec. 8 homily before the dedication of the mosaic.

Containing more than 14 million pieces of handmade Venetian glass, the masterpiece was designed by studios in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and then fabricated in Italy into smaller sections. These were then shipped to the United States and installed into what is being called the Trinity Dome mosaic which is considered to be the “crown jewel” of the basilica.

As CNA reports, this mosaic “is the capstone which finishes 97 years of construction and decoration of the Basilica and its interior.”

The enormous undertaking began in 1920 when people were invited from all over the country to contribute whatever they could to the project, with some donating pieces of old jewelry and precious stones. The Crypt Church was completed in 1931 but construction paused for the Great Depression and World War II, resuming in 1945 with the main structure completed in 1959.

Since that time, side chapels depicting a variety of Marian apparitions and scenes from Our Lady’s life have been erected along with many other mosaics on the ceilings and walls.

The church, which is one of the 10 largest churches in the world, was dedicated as a basilica in 1979 by St. John Paul II and has been visited by both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis who blessed the first section of the Trinity Dome mosaic during his visit in September 2015.

Friday’s joyous event was attended by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life as an envoy on behalf of Pope Francis and presented Cardinal Wuerl and the rector of the Basilica, Msgr. Walter Rossi, with a letter of Apostolic Blessing from the Pope for the blessing.

In total, there were five cardinals in attendance along with 23 bishops, nearly 90 priests and 4,000 people. Also present was Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich.

Calling the basilica a “modern-day masterpiece,” Cardinal Wuerl said it was faith that enabled so man people to work for so many years, and to sacrifice so much, to finish this church.

Which is only fitting because, after all, as the Cardinal said, “Mary believed that nothing is impossible with God. She is the supreme model of what it means to believe.”

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