I rode aimlessly around D.C. on this ride, taking routes that I hadn’t taken before in an attempt to find something new that I didn’t know about. And I did. I found a monastery, named The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. It’s located at 1400 Quincy Street (MAP) in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood. Also known as the Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and has been a place of worship and pilgrimage for thousands of visitors since the monastery and church’s dedication over a century ago.
Founded by Franciscan friars, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America is one of D.C.’s little-known and often overlooked gems, with a stunning neo-Byzantine style church with Romanesque influences at its center. Known as the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre and designed by the Italian architect and engineer Aristide Leonori, the cornerstone was laid in 1898 and construction was completed the following year. The floor plan of the church is based on the five-fold Crusader Cross of Jerusalem, and it is intended to resemble Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The Church was consecrated in September 1924, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its dedication.
Greeting visitors as they enter through the main gate is a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, who was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone in 1226. Saint Francis was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men’s Franciscan Order of which this monastery is affiliated, as well as the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. Saint Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in the history of Christianity.
Surrounding the church is the Rosary Portico, with 15 chapels commemorating the lives of Jesus and Mary. Each chapel contains artistic ceramic plaques bearing the Angelic Greeting, also known as the Hail Mary traditional Catholic prayer, in nearly 200 ancient and modern languages. The façade of the portico is decorated with early Christian symbols from the Catacombs, and is intended to be reminiscent of the cloister of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.
Attached to the rear of the church is the monastery, built in the neo-Romanesque style. The meticulously landscaped monastery grounds contain replicas of shrines in the Holy Land, a labyrinth, as well as a greenhouse. In the early days of the monastery, the grounds were the site of a small farm, and also included a barn, grain silo, tool sheds and other outbuildings. Today the grounds of the monastery contain beautiful gardens with more than 1,000 roses, as well as other flowers and plants.
I was able to park my bike and walk around the grounds of the monastery for a while. It is a very beautiful and peaceful place, a true oasis within the city. It was an enjoyable ride and experience, and I intend to go back again sometime soon.