Archive for the ‘Churches’ Category

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New School Baptist Church

I almost always go for an extended bike ride on long holiday weekends.  And although this weekend was not a long one, when it’s February and the temperature is in the upper 70’s here in the D.C. area it’s impossible to stay inside.  So I took one of my recumbent bikes and went for a long, leisurely ride this weekend.  And during the ride I happened upon the historic site of the New School Baptist Church, which is located along The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail at 15557 Cardinal Drive (MAP) in Dale City, Prince William County, Virginia.

According to the historic marker it was the site where slaves from plantations in the area “gathered between 1861 and 1865.  They built a brush arbor church, worshipped God and became a faithful congregation.  On December 5, 1881, Reverend John L. Bell and four other church leaders purchased one acre of this land for eleven dollars and called themselves the New School Baptist church.  George W. Thomas helped erect a wooden, steepled church which was renamed Neabsco Baptist Church.  The building was used also to educate children of former slaves and free persons of color.  This church has undergone two renovations.  Hand-hewn timbers below the flooring of the present church are silent reminders of the toll of many persons who held a dream during troubled times.”

While I was there I also ventured behind the church where the church’s historic cemetery is located.  There are headstones there that are so old that the names and dates are worn away.  The cemetery also proudly has the grave of a World War I veteran, Owen Thomas, whose family members still attend the church.

Neabsco Baptist Church has undergone many changes throughout its history and is about to undergo another major change.  On six acres of recently-purchased land adjacent to the existing church building they are curretly building a new and much larger sanctuary to accommodate its growing and dynamic congregation.  Even with its long history it’s pastor, Pastor Joshua Speights, Jr., feels some of the best days for the church are still ahead.  So it appears that the 156 year-old church will continue to make history well into the future.

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Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church

Whenever I’ve been anywhere near the Southwest Waterfront during one of my middle of the day bike rides, I have been able to hear church bells ringing out at noon.  So on this ride I decided to track down the source.  As a result, I ended up at Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church, which is a Roman Catholic and Dominican parish, located in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood at 630 E Street (MAP), which is adjacent to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, and just two blocks south of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. 

The parish of Saint Dominic was first established in 1852 under the care of the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the “Dominicans.”  Two years later, in March of 1854, the original parish church was dedicated during the feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the province of Dominicans serving St. Dominic’s parish.  A decade later, just months after the conclusion of the Civil War, the cornerstone was laid for a new church building, designed by the now famous architect, Patrick Charles Keely, who designed nearly 600 churches and hundreds of other institutional buildings for the Roman Catholic Church or Roman Catholic patrons in the eastern United States and Canada.  The new and larger English Gothic church was dedicated in 1875, and it is that church that remains today.

The outside of the church building looks much like it did when it was originally built.  But the inside of the church is very different,  And the neighborhood and surrounding area where it is located is also unlike it was.

On March 12, 1885, a fire destroyed the entire interior of the Saint Dominic’s.  But the church’s interior was restored thanks to fund raising efforts of Catholic and Protestants alike.  As part of the parish’s new interior, a Hilborne Roosevelt Organ was installed.  Today it is one of the few surviving organs made by the cousins of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the sound quality remains largely unchanged since its installation.  Although no photographs of the original interior are known to exist, it is said that the new interior is even more beautiful than the original.

The area surrounding the parish has changed even more than its interior.  In 1954 much of Southwest D.C. was demolished and rebuilt in accordance with the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act of 1950.  The convent, school, and original priory which were originally part of the parish were demolished to make room for the Southwest Freeway and frontage road.  The main church building itself, however, was protected and saved as a result of an official act of Congress.  During the intervening years since the church was built, everything else in the neighborhood has changed too, either being developed or torn down and replaced with large buildings housing either government offices, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, or private businesses such as the Hyatt Place DC/National Mall Hotel.

Hopefully the parish bell tower’s large bronze bell, which was installed in March of 1889 and has been ringing each day for the past 127 years, will continue to draw people like me to experience this unique and beautiful church, which remains consistent in the midst of change.

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Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church

On this lunchtime bike ride I went back to Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church.  It located at 1908 North Capitol Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, and is situated on hill next to a bridge where T Street passes over North Capitol Street.  I say I went “back” to the church because although it’s been many years, I have been there before.  My first (and current) wife and I were married there almost two decades ago, and this was the first time I’ve been back since.

Saint Martin’s Church was built in phases over time, and embraces an architecturally eclectic mix of neo-classical Greek and Roman styles. Beginning in 1902, a parish hall was constructed to serve the church, which was established the previous year. The original parish hall remains, and now serves as a community center. As the church continued to grow, a basement church was built on the corner of North Capital and T streets in 1913, and the main church was eventually added in 1939.

Martin of Tours was born in in Savaria in the Diocese of Pannonia, in what is now Szombathely, Hungary. Born of pagan parents, his father was a senior officer in the Roman Army who was later stationed at what was known as Ticinum, now Pavia, in northern Italy, where Martin spent much of his childhood. At the age of ten he attended the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen. As the son of a veteran he was forced to serve in the Roman Army beginning at the age of 15. Then at the age of 18, while still in the Roman Army, he was baptised. This would eventually lead to a conflict of conscience and, at the age of 23, Martin found his military duty incompatible with his adopted Christian faith. He refused a war bonus and told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After great difficulties, he was discharged.

After living as a Catholic for some time, Martin traveled to meet Bishop Hilary of Poitiers, a theologian who would later also be canonized a saint. Martin’s spirituality and dedication to the faith impressed the bishop, who asked the former soldier to return to his diocese after a planned journey back to Hungary to visit his parents. While visiting them, Martin persuaded his mother, though not his father, to join the Church.

Martin became be a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, and was ordained an exorcist. He then became a monk, living first at Milan. Later, he moved to a small island named Gallinaria, now Isola d’Albenga, in the Ligurian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit. Eventually Martin returned to France and established what may have been the first French monastery near Poitiers. He lived there for the next decade, forming his disciples and preaching throughout the countryside. It was after this time that the people of Tours demanded that Martin become their bishop. A story was devised of a sick person at the church in Tours who was in need of Martin’s assistance. The ruse worked in bringing Martin to the church, where despite the deception he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.

After his appointed as Bishop, Martin continued to live as a monk, dressing plainly and owning no personal possessions. In fact, throughout the rest of his life Martin continued to live an austere life focused on the care of souls. In this same spirit of sacrifice, he traveled extensively as a missionary to places where Christianity was as yet barely known.

During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first nonmartyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.  Saint Martin of Tours has historically been among the most recognizable and beloved saints in the history of Europe.

I enjoyed learning more about the church and the saint after whom it was named as a result of this ride.  But even more, I enjoyed seeing the inside of the church again after so many years.  And it is exactly how I remembered it.

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Street Church

A short time back during one of my lunchtime bike rides I found myself in Franklin Square Park (MAP) enjoying some take-out from a favorite downtown eatery located across the street from the park, Soho Café & Market.  It was a particularly warm day and, as I was enjoying some cold pasta salad, I watched a group of people who were gathered near the fountain situated in the main plaza in the middle of the park.  After watching them for a while I figured out what the gathering was.  So I chose to join them.

The group of people turned out to be a congregation.  And the gathering was a “Street Church” service, which is an outreach and social justice ministry of the Church of the Epiphany.  I had previously visited and wrote about the church in this blog.  And I even knew about the Street Church ministry.  But attending the service that day was the first time I got to experience it for myself.

Street Church takes place in the park every Tuesday, from 1:00pm to 1:30pm.  The service, which is part of the Ecclesia Ministries network which began with Common Cathedral in Boston, includes singing, prayer, participative preaching, and the administration of the Eucharist.  The congregation usually includes approximately 30 to 50 downtown poor, as well as church volunteers and other various visitors and passersby, like me.  The mission of Street Church is to build a diverse and inclusive community, worship as one, and give and receive the love of Christ.

Street Church’s mission also includes feeding the hungry.  So the service is followed by lunch in the park, consisting of sandwiches and lunches assembled by a group of volunteers in the church’s kitchen.  This seems particularly relevant to me because it reminds me of something one of my theology professors back in college used to say.  I remember him saying, “It’s more difficult to feed someone’s soul when that person does not have enough food to feed their body.”

Not only did I enjoy my first experience at Street Church, it also came at a very meaningful time for me.  At the end of the service, the priest invited people to come forward to an area near one of the park’s gigantic trees if they wished to receive a healing prayer.  And it just so happened to be the area was where I already was standing.  Then, as she very politely began to ask me to make room for those who were going to be coming forward, I told her that I was there to pray with her.  I told her how I had been diagnosed with cancer last fall, and how I had been to my oncologist a few days prior for a follow up, and that I was a little anxious about the results I was scheduled to receive the next day.  So we prayed together before I left.  And I am now happy to be able to report that I remain cancer free.

I have gone back to Street Church a few times since that first encounter.  And I plan to continue to attend when I am able to.  Someday soon I would also like to join in with their regular volunteers in the Epiphany kitchen and help prepare the lunches brought to and served in the park.  In addition to a core of volunteers who come on a regular basis, they welcome any volunteer who would like to participate in this ministry.  They also offer the opportunity to volunteer in the park, spending time and being in relationship with the downtown poor through worship, lunch, and conversation.

Another meaningful volunteer experience at Street Church is becoming a Street Church Partner.  By becoming a Street Church Partner, youth and adult groups are able to participate in social justice ministries with the downtown poor and to allow this experience to deepen their faith journeys.  Street Church Partners participate in the full schedule of preparing lunch, participating and serving in the park, plus orientation beforehand and spiritual reflection afterward. Street Church Partners also contribute to the cost of the Street Church lunch on their day.

Since all are welcome, I feel confident speaking on behalf of Street Church in inviting everyone to participate, whether it’s through attending, volunteering, or contributing financially to the cost of providing the food that accompanies the spiritual nourishment that Street Church provides.  Or if you don’t live in the D.C. area or are otherwise unable to be part of Street Church, I would encourage you to seek out something similar wherever you are.

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NOTE:  The service in the park and the downtown poor who attend remind me of a story about a church.  However, the church in the story is nothing like Street Church.  The story goes something like this.

One Sunday morning an old man entered a church just before services were to begin. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore an old and faded pair of slacks, a plain shirt without a collar, and a pair of shoes that were appeared worn and ragged and had paper-thin soles.  And in his hand he carried a worn out old hat, and a equally worn out Bible.

The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful churches the old man had ever seen.  And the people of the congregation were all dressed in expensive clothes and accessories.

As he took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

After the service as he was leaving the church, the priest approached him and asked the man to do him a favor: “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.”  The old man assured the preacher he would.

But the next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged clothes, shoes and and hat.  Once again he was completely shunned and ignored. The priest approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church.”

“I did,” replied the old man.

“If you spoke to God, what did he tell you proper attire should be for worshiping in here?” asked the priest.

“Well, sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He said He’d never been in here before.”

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The Annual Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

On this bike ride I rode to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, which is located at 619 10th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood. The oldest parish in the national capitol city, St. Patrick’s Church was founded in 1794 to minister to the needs of the stonemasons building the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building. The parish continues to serve the needs of downtown D.C. through daily Mass and confession, as well as adult education and cultural activities. It was for one of these activities, the Annual Blue Mass, that I chose today to ride to St. Patrick’s Church.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week in which that date falls as National Police Week. And each year prior to the beginning of National Police Week, St. Patrick’s Church holds The Blue Mass to pray for those in law enforcement and fire safety, to remember those who have fallen, and to show support for those who continue to serve.

Before the beginning of the Mass, hundreds of law enforcement officers and public safety officials gather outside for the solemn processional into the church. Units from a variety of Federal, state, and local jurisidictions from the D.C. Metropolitan Area and around the country gather in official formation to pass under a huge American flag proudly hung over the street by two fire ladder trucks. Also gathered outside are officers on horseback, as well as pipe and drum corps units.

Inside the church, the principal celebrant and homilist for this year’s Mass was His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. The Blue Mass included Police Officers’ Prayer to Saint Michael, who as the Archangel of battle and defender of Heaven, is said to be the Patron Saint of policemen, and the Firefighters’ Prayer to Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, as well as chimney sweeps, soapmakers, and the city of Linz, Austria. The Mass also included an honor guard, bagpipers, and the solemn playing of “Taps” in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the past year.

Being a police officer or first responder is not only an extremely difficult and dangerous job, but also involves a willingness to sacrifice for others, even if they don’t appreciate it.   Today’s Blue Mass was a powerful reminder of that.

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Police Officers’ Prayer to St. Michael, the Archangel

Dear Saint Michael, Your name means, “Who is Like a God”, and it indicates that You remained faithful when others rebelled against God. Help the police officers of our day who strive to stem the rebellion and evil that are rampant on all sides. Keep them faithful to their God as well as to their country and their fellow human beings. Amen.

Firefighters’ Prayer to Saint Florian

Dear God, through the intercession of our patron, Saint Florian, have mercy on the souls of our comrades who have made the supreme sacrifice in the performance of their duty, and on all who have gone before us after years of faithful discharge of their responsibilities which now rest on ourselves. Give us Grace to prepare each day for our own summons to Your tribunal of justice. Into Your hands O Lord, I commend my spirit. Whenever You call me, I am ready to go. Merciful Father of all men and women, save me from all bodily harm, if it be Your will, but above all, help me to be loyal and true, respectful and honorable, obedient and valiant. Thus fortified by virtue, I shall have no fear, for I shall then belong to You and shall never be separated from You. Amen.

Woodrow Wilson’s Interment Site

Woodrow Wilson’s Interment Site

In addition to the distinction of remaining a resident of the National Capitol City after leaving office in 1921, President Woodrow Wilson also has the distinction of being the only President whose final resting place is in D.C.  The 28th President is interred at Washington National Cathedral, which is located at 3101 Wisconsin Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Cathedral Heights neighborhood. And on today’s 91st anniversary of his death, it was the destination for this bike ride.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson served as President from 1913 until 1921. While still in office, President Wilson suffered a severe stroke in October of 1919, leaving him paralyzed on his left side, and with only partial vision in his right eye. This was compounded by the effects of a previous stroke he had while sleeping one night in 1906, which had caused blindness in his left eye. As a result, he was confined to bed for weeks and sequestered from everyone except his wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, and his physician, Dr. Cary Grayson. As there was no clear constitutional precedent at that time for what to do if a president became unable to perform his duties, Edith Wilson effectively led in his place.

Wilson served as President during a time prior to ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits a President to two terms in office. And had it not been for his significant health problems, he would have run and most likely been elected to a third term as President. But by the following year his disability had diminished his power and influence, and the Democratic Party ignored his tentative plan to run for re-election.

Despite his poor health limiting the time he was able to serve in office, Wilson was not only one of the more effective Presidents in history, but one of the more interesting ones as well. In addition to being the only President to live in D.C. after leaving office, and the only one to make D.C. his final resting place, the following are just a few of the more interesting facts about him.

Although he could not read until he was 9 years old and was mostly home-schooled, he went on to be the only President, so far, to earn a PhD.  He went by “Tom” or “Tommy” for most of his life, and didn’t switch to going by his middle name until he headed off to law school, because he thought it sounded more impressive. While living there, he was the first person to ride a bike in the city of Wilmington, North Carolina.  Afterward he remained an avid bike rider.  He was the first President to cross the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the first President to hold a press conference. He holds the record for spending more time outside the U.S. than any other President. Wilson was the first President to attend a World Series game, throwing out the first pitch of Game 2 between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies in 1915.   Wilson holds the record among all U.S. Presidents for the most rounds of golf, having played over 1,000 rounds, or almost one every other day.  As President, Wilson issued a declaration creating Mother’s Day. His nickname is Professor because he was one at Princeton, where he was voted as the most popular professor for six consecutive years before becoming President of the University. He was married twice, and his second wife was a direct descendant of legendary Native American Pocahontas. He let flocks of sheep stay on the White House lawn. And after running on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of World War I, and then leading the nation into the war, Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts to avert future world wars. The Second World War would begin two decades later.  And the last thing he said was his wife’s name, Edith.

President Wilson retired in 1921, and he and his wife moved into an elegant 1915 town house on Embassy Row in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood. Less than three years later, on February 3, 1924, the 67-year old former President died at home of another stroke and other heart-related problems. He was buried at the Washington National Cathedral, which was under construction at the time. Thirty years after his death his body was moved inside the church, where he was interred in a sarcophagus. Edith Wilson stayed in the home another 37 years, dying there on December 28, 1961, after which she was also interred at the Cathedral, below the tile in front of President Wilson’s crypt.

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Calvary Baptist Church

Calvary Baptist Church

On this day in 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. It should be noted that the consumption of alcohol was never illegal under federal law. Prohibition focused on the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. However, exceptions were made for medicinal and religious uses. Nationwide prohibition did not begin until 1920, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution went into effect.  Thirteen years later, what President Woodrow Wilson referred to as “America’s noble experiment” ended.

The movement for the interdiction of alcohol that eventually resulted in Prohibition actually started much earlier – in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late part of the century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for national liquor abstinence. The Anti-Saloon League was one of the most prominent of these organizations, and eventually spearheaded the lobbying for prohibition in this country.  Calvary Baptist Church, a bright red brick church located at 755 8th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, is where the first Anti-Saloon League meeting was held. It was also one of my destinations on today’s lunchtime bike ride.

On this ride I also went by a couple of other D.C. locations with connections to Prohibition – The Woodrow Wilson House and D.C.’s Temperance Fountain – despite the fact that I have been to and written in this blog about these locations previously.

While most presidents at that time happily retired back to their home state, Wilson decided to stick around and continued to live in the national Capitol city after leaving office. His second wife, Edith, had lived in D.C. before they met and received a small fortune when her former husband, a prosperous local jeweler, passed away. Woodrow and Edith moved into their newly-acquired Embassy Row home at 2340 S Street (MAP) in 1921.  But it wasn’t an easy move. Prohibition was in effect at the time, and since it forbade the transportation of alcohol, it presented a problem for Wilson, who did not want to leave his fine wine collection behind in the White House for his successor, especially since the recently elected Warren G. Harding was known to be a heavy drinker.  Wilson appealed to Congress, and Congress passed a special law just for him that allowed one person on one specific day “to transport alcohol from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 2340 S Street.”

My last destination for this prohibition-themed bike ride was the Temperance Fountain, located at the corner of Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue in downtown D.C. (MAP).  A temperance fountain was a fountain that was set up, usually by a private benefactor, to encourage people not to drink alcohol by providing safe and free water instead. During the earlier temperance movement, beer was the main alternative to water, and generally safer. The temperance societies had no real alternative as tea and coffee were too expensive, so water fountains were very attractive. One such fountain still exists in D.C. It was one of the ones built by Henry Cogswell, a dentist and a crusader in the temperance movement. It was his dream to construct one temperance fountain for every 100 saloons in the U.S. It is unknown exactly how many Cogswell actually built, but the fountain in D.C. is one of only four that still remain.

After the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, some states continued Prohibition by maintaining statewide temperance laws. Mississippi, the last “dry” state, didn’t end Prohibition until 1966. To this day there continue to be areas within states where prohibition remains in effect, commonly referred to as “dry counties.” There are currently more than 500 counties and municipalities in the U.S. that are dry, including 83 in Alaska. Nearly one half of Mississippi’s counties are dry. And in Florida, four of its 67 counties are dry, all of which are located in the northern part of the state, an area that has cultural ties to the Deep South. And although Moore County, Tennessee, is the home of Jack Daniel’s, a major operational distillery of whiskey, it is also a dry county, so the product is not available at stores or restaurants within the county.

By comparison, D.C. is not dry, and it is very different place today than it was when the Anti-Saloon League was meeting at Calvary Baptist Church and people were drinking water from the Temperance Fountain.  There are currently over 1,900 establishments and businesses that possess liquor licenses to sell alcohol to the 646,449 residents in the 68-square-mile area known as the District of Columbia.  This works out to a bar or liquor store for every 340 residents of our nation’s capitol.

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The 19th Street Baptist Church

The 19th Street Baptist Church

I took this photo on a recent bike. Although it’s not a very good one, it is a photo of The 19th Street Baptist Church. I remember at the time I took the photo, however, that I just wanted the street sign and the sign for the church to both be visible in the photo. This was because The 19th Street Baptist Church is located on 16th Street in northwest D.C.   Yes, you read that correctly. The 19th Street Baptist Church is located on 16th Street. I initially thought, “It’s a good thing you don’t have to be a mathematician who’s good with numbers to be a Christian.” But then as I thought about it, I was so puzzled that I had to find out the story behind this apparent inconsistency.

The church was originally founded in August of 1839, when the First Colored Church of Washington was organized by a group of Baptist ministers and laypersons, including the Reverend Jeremiah Moore, Rev. Lewis Richards, Rev. Adam Freeman, Rev. William Parkinson, Charles P. Polk, Cephas Fox, Charles Rogers, John Buchan, and Joseph and Sarah Borrows.

The leaders and congregation were previously part of The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C., which had an interracial congregation where black members worshipped alongside whites. However, similar to other congregations at that time, the church gradually segregated its black members from the white parishioners. Given their discontent with being assigned to the gallery of the First Baptist Church, the black members chose to leave the congregation and establish their own independent church.

The new church then formed a committee, which was authorized to buy a plot of land which was available on the southwest corner of Nineteenth and I Streets, where a house of worship known as the Baptist Church of Christ in Washington was erected. The church was later incorporated as the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, in November of 1870.

The church remained on the corner of 19th and I Streets for over a century, until January of 1975, when it moved to its present location at 4606 Sixteenth Street (MAP) in D.C.’s Crestwood neighborhood. In part to preserve its rich history as the first and oldest black Baptist congregation in the nation’s capitol, it kept the name under which it was incorporated, even after the move.

Since its founding over 175 years ago, the church has figured prominently within the historical and social fabric of D.C.’s African American community, and it continues to do so today. 

The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

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.

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Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

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.

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