In an earlier post, we discussed the cathedrals and basilicas found on our travels and decided to focus on visiting the 95 basilicas found in the US. Currently being on a trip in Europe (without the RV) and finding ourselves in many amazing churches, we wanted to update our progress and share a hint of an upcoming blog on our Europe trip.

We were surprised to find a basilica in Asheville, NC, thinking most would be located in larger cities. However the impressive Basilica of St. Lawrence is certainly a marvel for its architectural design and longevity. Made entirely of tiles, this domed church does not have a single support beam in it. The designer and builder, Rafael Guastavino, was well-known for his skill for building self-supporting domes and other vaulted structures using interlocking tiles and mortar in a stacking and crisscrossing of four inch tiles to build a cohesive support system. In this church, Guastavino not only designed and built the church but also kilned the tiles with his son in their Asheville workshop. The entire church including all the stairs and choir loft are built from this with an impressive Spanish altar as well.

Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville NC
The vaulted ceiling of the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville NC is the masterpiece

During a visit to St. Louis to its beautiful Byzantine tiled basilica, the tour guide told us that the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC was amazing so I was curious to see it. Considered the national church of American Catholics, the Basilica was begun in 1920 and completed in 2017. The Basilica, which is Byzantine and Romanesque in design, houses more than 70 chapels honoring Mary and reflecting the origins of the Catholic immigrants and religious orders whose generosity helped erected the chapels.

Chapel dedicated to Mary, our Lady of Guadalupe at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Built on the Catholic University campus, it is a long public transit trip outside the main loop of D.C. As you approach it, the size overwhelms you. The largest church in North America, it includes a basement with religious gift shops, a small cafe and areas for gatherings and the crypt. While I was there too late for a tour, it would likely be helpful to better understand the various chapels dedicated to Mary’s many titles and representing the many cultures that make up this nation.

Basilica artwork
The Holy Trinity mosiac art at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

The historic Baltimore Basilica was built from 1806-1821 after the adoption of the US Constitution to celebrate the new country’s religious freedom. Known as America’s First Cathedral, it is officially named the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A more modest sized basilica than its neighbor in DC, I found it to be more beautiful. The startling white interior surprised us with its lightness. Another church built without interior support beams, the Baltimore basilica design uses the neoclassical architecture of the federal buildings in D.C. as a pointed decision to look “American.” Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who designed the US Capitol, volunteered his architectural expertise to design this church.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Brick tiles form an arch autographed by one of the bricklayers at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

As we continue to visit cathedrals and basilicas of the United States, we are awed by their beauty and in many cases their age. However as a trip to Europe reminded us, we are still a very young nation. In Brugge, Belgium we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood which houses a relic of Christ’s blood. Thierry of Alsace presented it to the Bishop of Brugge on April 7, 1150, upon returning from his second crusade.

Basilica of the Holy Blood
Art and Altar at Basilica of the Holy Blood
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Veneration of relic at Basilica of the Holy Blood

A small church in comparison to most European churches, this one has a up and downstairs chapels with the upstairs being an elaborate mixture of stained glass, carvings and paintings.

More to come as we continue to visit the many beautiful churches in Europe and the United States. Let us know which is your favorite!

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