On this bike ride I rode to The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located on land donated by The Catholic University of America, which is adjacent to the Basilica at 400 Michigan Avenue (MAP) in northeast D.C. The prominent Latin Rite Catholic basilica is the largest Catholic church in the United States, and the eighth largest religious structure in the world. It is also the tallest habitable building in D.C.
Visited by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Mother Teresa, among others, the Basilica, though distinctly American, rivals the great sanctuaries of Europe and the world. Its architecture is Romanesque-Byzantine in style, and in comparison to Gothic structures such as the Washington National Cathedral, a Romanesque church is quite simple in appearance. Open 365 days a year, the Basilica features daily guided tours and operates a Catholic gift shop and book store, and a cafeteria. The Basilica also houses the world’s largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art. It is host to nearly one million visitors annually, attracting pilgrims and tourists alike from across the country and around the world.
Designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage, the Basilica is the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine, dedicated to the patroness of the United States – the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception. It is not the cathedral of Washington D.C. The designated cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Washington is the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, not the Basilica. It is oftentimes affectionately referred to as “America’s Catholic Church.” The Basilica is home to over 70 chapels and oratories that relate to the peoples, cultures and traditions that are the fabric of the Catholic faith and the mosaic of the nation.
The Basilica has a seating capacity of 3,500 worshippers at one time, and offers six Masses and five hours of confessions daily. Special Masses, devotions, pilgrimages, and concerts are also offered on Holy days and holidays. It does not have its own parish community, but serves the adjacent Catholic University of America, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and hosts numerous Holy Masses for various organizations of the Church from across the United States.