Posts Tagged ‘Gothic’

EOY2017 (130)

The Castle (front)

One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in D.C. is the Smithsonian Institution Building.  Colloquially known as “The Castle,” it is located just off the National Mall at 1000 Jefferson Drive (MAP).  I’ve passed by it during bike rides literally thousands of times over the years.  And I’ve visited some of the many gardens surrounding it, such as The Enid A. Haupt Garden, The Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, and my personal favorite, The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  But I’ve never researched it or featured it in this blog.  But with it appearing to be so picturesque on this ride, I decided it was about time I did.

The Castle was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., whose other works include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, also in D.C.  It was the first Smithsonian building.  There are now 20 Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, 11 of which are at the National Mall.  The Castle was designed and built in the Norman Revival style, a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs, which causes it to stand out among D.C.’s other architectural styles.  And it is constructed of Seneca red sandstone from the Seneca quarry in nearby Seneca, Maryland, which causes it to further stand out in contrast to the granite, marble and yellow sandstone from the other major buildings in D.C.  Construction began in 1847 and was completed in 1855.  It was designated added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1965.

The Castle initially served as a home and office for the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry.  And until 1881, it also housed all aspects of Smithsonian operations, including research and administrative offices; lecture halls; exhibit halls; a library and reading room; chemical laboratories; storage areas for specimens; and living quarters for the Secretary, his family, and visiting scientists.

Currently, The Castle houses the administrative offices of the Smithsonian. The main Smithsonian visitor center is also located in The Castle.  In the visitor center you can get a grasp of the scope and scale of the Smithsonian with an exhibit entitled “America’s Treasure Chest”, that displays items from collections across the Smithsonian.  There are also interactive displays and maps, and computers that can electronically answer most common questions.  There are volunteers and in-house experts as well, who can answer other questions and provide information about what to see and do based on what’s currently going on at all the Smithsonian museums.  Additionally, docent tours highlighting The Castle’s 19th-century architecture and history are available.

The visitor center is also home to a museum store featuring a myriad of souvenirs, and the Castle Café, where visitors can enjoy specialty sandwiches, soups, pastries, organic salads, antipasti, a coffee, espresso/cappuccino bar, teas, bottled beverages, beer, wine and, when in season, ice cream.

Finally, just inside the north entrance of The Castle is a crypt that houses the tomb of James Smithson.  Smithson was an English chemist and mineralogist who never married and had no children.  Therefore, when he wrote his will, he left his estate to his nephew, or his nephew’s family if his nephew died before him.  If his nephew were to die without heirs, however, Smithson’s will stipulated that his estate be used “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”.  Smithson died in Genoa, Italy in June of 1829, at the age of 64.  Six years later, in 1835, his nephew died without heir, setting in motion the bequest to the United States.  In this way Smithson became the founding patron of the Smithsonian Institution despite having never visited the United States.

SmithsonianCastle01

The Castle (back)

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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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]