Week 9: Franciscan Monastery

Excerpt from the Mission Statement: 800 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church entrusted the guardianship of the Holy Land and other shrines of the Christian religion to the Order of St. Francis. This work has grown to include support of schools and missions in the Holy Land, as well as care for refugees and other needy people throughout the region. The Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., sustains this 800-year mission of the Franciscan Friars in the Holy Land through education, fundraising, recruiting vocations, promoting pilgrimages and providing pastoral ministry locally to religious and lay Catholics and to all of good will.

I wanted to get my last bit of holiday fix in this weekend, so I chose to take a tour of the Franciscan Monastery, a site with replicas of shrines from the Holy Land (defined to include Israel as well as other places such as Egypt) and of the Roman catacombs. The tour had two parts, each with its own guide: first a tour of the main level of the church, and then a tour of the catacombs and crypts on the lower level.

Grotto of Bethlehem replica at Franciscan Monastery

Grotto of Bethlehem replica at Franciscan Monastery

Right now, the altars are adorned with garlands and poinsettias, and there are Nativity scenes on display. We saw a replica of the cave where Jesus is said to have been born, and because today falls between December 25 and January 6, a baby Jesus figure was present in the manger. The rest of the year, the manger is empty.

The building is shaped like a cross, with a high domed ceiling in the middle. Our main level tour guide spoke of the Byzantine style in which the church was built and told the tour group about the mosaics, stained glass windows, and reliefs. The balustrades are adorned with Stars of David, which, the tour guide said, symbolize Christians’ recognition of Jesus as the messiah prophesied by Jews.

On the lower level are the replicated catacombs. In Rome, the real catacombs contain about 900 miles of dark narrow passages. The Franciscan Monastery’s catacombs only require visitors to be in a tight space for a few seconds, so the experience is not physically stifling.

Outside, there are gardens, statues, and more replicas of chapels and tombs which visitors can explore on their own. A peace pole stands among the gardens.

St. Francis with a bundle of wonder at the Franciscan Monastery

St. Francis with a bundle of wonder at the Franciscan Monastery

Throughout the site, architectural and artistic details signify St. Francis’s love and care for animals and nature. Inside the church, there are animal motifs on the ceilings, and a bird and flower motif on the sides of the canopy over the central altar. The grounds include a statue of St. Francis with a dog, a reflecting pool with fish, a birdbath, and gardens that even in January have some flowers. In an exhibit in the lobby, there is an artistic representation of St. Francis with birds.

This month’s theme is Communication Is Architecture (leave a comment if you know where that line is from!). I plan to visit a variety of museums and cultural sites and note the unique architecture and landscape architecture of each one.

Happy 2013!


January’s blog theme is Communication Is Architecture.


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Museums and Holidays, Weekly Museum Visits Part III and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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