RAA Franciscan Monastery Holy Land

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

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View of church from the southwest

Suppose you can’t afford to visit the “Holy Land,” Roman Catacombs, or Lourdes in southern France, but you know that seeing any of those holy places for yourself would be a faith building experience. Well, here is the answer: visit the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, DC. There you can find not only the beautiful Franciscan Monastery church, where services are held daily, but also re-creations of the catacombs, which were refuges and burial places of early Roman Christians, accurate re-creations of “Holy Land” sites both inside the church and out in the lovely gardens, and also a re-creation of the grotto of Lourdes where the peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, had visions of the Virgin Mary. You can see all of these and more right here in Washington, DC.

Statue of St. Francis holding dove next to a youth

The Franciscan order of monks was founded by a man, Francis of Assisi (who became Saint Francis of Assisi), who promoted an ascetic life of poverty and who wanted to rebuild the spiritual strength of the Catholic Church. He received approval in 1209 from Pope Innocent III for his mission, and worked tirelessly to achieve it, gaining followers who followed in his footsteps.

Here he is shown with a child and doves, both of which are frequent art motifs when depicting Saint Francis, to portray his gentleness.

Statue of St. Francis holding baby Jesus, lily, and book

Saint Francis is also often represented in art holding the baby Jesus, lilies of purity, and a book of learning. Creating and running organizations was not his greatest strength, but rather he was inspirational to so many people, and he succeeded in inspiring people who were good organizers and managers to establish multiple orders of friars who experienced great successes throughout the Christian world. There are now Franciscan monasteries throughout the world, and especially in the near east, where they have a mandate to maintain Roman Catholic holy sites and they help the poor.

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Statue of Father Godfrey Schilling

The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land was the child of Father Godfrey Schilling, O.F.M., who along with the Very Reverend Charles A. Vassani, envisioned a “holy land in America” in the late nineteenth century. Father Schilling’s vision was achieved during the course of two decades, during which time he traveled in the “holy land” to take pictures and photographs of holy sites to ensure accurate reproduction.

View of church from the northwest

The church, called The Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was consecrated in 1924, built on a hill that was called “Mount Saint Sepulcher.” The church was designed by the famous architect Aristide Leonori, in the neo-Byzantine style, resembling the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The statue to the right of the flag pole is that of Father Godfrey Schilling.

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Looking down cloister toward chapel mosaic of Jesus in Gethsemane

The church is surrounded by a cloistered walkway, which includes small chapels with mosaics commemorating episodes in the life and death of Jesus. In this chapel, we see a mosaic of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

View of the monastery, where the monks live

The Monastery grounds contain replicas of shrines in the “Holy Land,” a Lourdes grotto, and a replica of the Portiuncola chapel, where Saint Franscis started his work of rebuilding the Catholic Church, first by rebuilding the chapel. The Franciscan Monastery itself (at left), where the monks live, is in the neo-Romanesque style, and is attached to the church.

Western door to the church, with two styles of cross and image of Christ above the doors

The Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulcher is entered from the west side (facing Quincy Street, NE. Over the door is the likeness of Jesus, to the left of Jesus is the Tau Cross, and to the right is the Jerusalem (or Crusader’s) Cross.

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