Posts Tagged ‘Knights of Columbus’


Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain

It has rained, and occasionally stormed, every day for the past couple of weeks here in D.C.  And as indicated by the ominous-looking skies in the background of the photos from this bike ride, it rained again today. But I haven’t let that keep me from my lunchtime bike rides. And on this ride, I went to see the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain, located in the middle of Columbus Plaza (MAP), in front of Union Station in northeast D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood.

The fountain, also sometimes referred to as the Columbus Monument, is a memorial to Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer, navigator, and first colonizer of the Western Hemisphere or “New World.”  It was designed by American sculptor Lorado Zadoc Taft, a distant relative of President William Howard Taft, in collaboration with architect Daniel Burnham. It is a semicircular double-basin fountain with a shaft in the center. The front of the shaft bears a full-length portrait of Christopher Columbus staring south toward the U.S. Capitol Building with his arms crossed in front of him. He is flanked on his right side by an American Indian, who is facing west, representing the “New World.” On Columbus’ left side is an elderly man facing east, representing the “Old World.”  In front of the shaft is a ship prow that features a winged figurehead leading the way.  That represents “discovery.”  And above Columbus is a globe representing the Western hemisphere, with four eagles, one on each corner connected by garland.  Two lions, placed away from the base, guard the left and right sides of the fountain.

In a day the New York Times referred to as “second only to the inauguration of a President,” the fountain was publicly unveiled in a dedication ceremony and parade on June 8, 1912. After the Knights of Columbus’ successful lobbying for the sculpture which had begun a half a dozen years earlier, the festivities at the dedication ceremony included approximately 50,000 members of the organization. The ceremony was presided over by then Secretary of State Philander Knox, with invocation given by Father Thomas Shahan, the Rector of The Catholic University of America.  Other notable participants included Italian Ambassador Cusania Confalonieri, Apostolic Delegate to United States Archbishop Giovanni Vincenzo Cardinal Bonzano and other Catholic Church notables, as well as President Taft.  It also included 15,000 troops, 2,000 motor cars, a 21 gun salute, and elaborate horse-drawn floats depicting noteworthy incidents in Columbus’ life. And it was all viewed by around 150,000 spectators.

During his formal address at the dedication ceremony, President Taft said, “It is most difficult for us by any effort of the imagination to take in the problem which Columbus solved.” And as I visited the fountain today, I contemplated that statement. In this age of technology-assisted navigation and easy travel, it is almost impossible to fully comprehend the both the difficult conditions and the uncertainty of the outcome of Columbus’ journeys. Not only did he not have GPS or satellite imagery, Columbus didn’t even have a map.  That’s because no maps existed at that time of where he was going.  All he had was a compass and an astrolabe.  His boat actually started to fall apart on his first voyage.  They nearly ran out of food and water, facing starvation and dehydration.  In fact, Columbus wrote in his diary in 1492, “We ate biscuit which was a powder swarming with worms. It smelt of rats. … We ate sawdust from the boards.”   They also faced the threat of many diseases, and many people died on the ship.  They encountered severe storms and weather challenges as well.  And with all these problems, his crew not only wanted to turn back, they wanted to kill him.  So next time you’re headed through Union Station or Reagan National Airport on your way somewhere, stop and think about how good you’ve got it.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial

The James Cardinal Gibbons Memorial Statue is a public artwork, and is located in front of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish, in a median at the confluence of 16th Street, Park Road and Sacred Heart Way (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The statue depicts a bronze figure of James Gibbons seated, wearing cardinals robes, with his right hand in a raised position as if giving a blessing.  In his left hand he is holding a cross that hangs from his neck.  The base, which is made of granite, has a relief of a shield topped with an ecclesiastical hat. The shield has the coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and the Cardinal’s personal coat of arms.  Around the shield are rows of tassels that represent the ranks of clergy. The statue was authorized by Congress and President Calvin Coolidge on April 23, 1928, at no expense to the United States. The piece was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, and created by Italian sculptor Leo Lentelli.  It was unveiled in August of 1932, a date chosen to coincide with the Knights of Columbus’ 50th anniversary.  The statue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Cardinal James Gibbons was born in 1834 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Irish immigrant parents.  After his father fell ill with tuberculosis, he moved the family back to Ireland, where he believed the air would benefit him.  After his father died in 1847, his mother moved 19-year old James and the rest of the family back to the United States in 1853, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After deciding to pursue the priesthood, Gibbons entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland.  After graduating from St. Charles, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  On June 30, 1861, Gibbons was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Francis Kenrick of Baltimore, and served during the Civil War as a volunteer chaplain at Fort McHenry.  In 1868, at the age of 34, he became one of the youngest Catholic bishops in the world, and was known by the nickname “the boy bishop.”  From 1869 to 1870, Gibbons attended the First Vatican Council in Rome, and ultimately was the last of its participants to die.  In 1877, the Baltimore-born Gibbons became the head of the oldest archdiocese in the United States. Also in 1887, he helped found The Catholic University of America in D.C., and served as its first chancellor.  Nine years later, in 1886, Pope Leo XIII named him as the second-ever U.S. cardinal.

A man who was often viewed as the face of the Catholic Church in America, Gibbons was also an advocate of the labor movement of those days, and played a key role in obtaining permission from the Pope for Catholics to join labor unions.  And in his dealings with the Vatican, he and other “Americanizers” championed the separation of church and state.

An ardent proponent of American civic institutions, Gibbons called the U.S. Constitution the finest instrument of government ever created.   He was also a frequent visitor to The White House.  Gibbons knew every president from Andrew Johnson to Warren Harding, and served as an advisor to many of them.  President William Howard Taft honored him for his humanitarian work at the 1911 golden jubilee celebration of his ordination. And in 1917, President Theodore Roosevelt hailed him as “the most venerated, respected and useful citizen in America.”