… of The Holy Land in America

Can you copy the heritage? I’d rephrase: for example, can you bring home replica of certain historical site and claim that this replica holds onto the same historical importance?

During my most recent stay in Washington, DC I visited its very own Franciscan monastery. I’m not a religious person, and Christianity is quite far from my spiritual journey, so to say. Yet I enjoy visiting temples and cathedrals, synagogues and mosques, as many of them capture that moment of unity with oneself and divine – whatever the divinity itself means to you. To my surprise, the fact of visiting the monastery, even the mere desire of doing so, left most people shrugging shoulders. “Why bother,” – They say, – “It is not a real Franciscan hermitage, it does not have the history.”

For me this is quite a surprising assumption. Even if it was built just a century ago and its beautiful shrines are mere replicas, even if it shines with clean, crisp golden paint, even it does not smell of mold and 800 centuries, this monastery has all the right to arouse interest not only among historians and religion scholars, but among simple tourists as well. At least that what I thought before my visit, and it proved me right. Mind you, this friary is not just a museum, it is a functioning monastery.

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Located in Brookland, relatively diverse neighbourhood, The Franciscan Monastery was built in late 1890’s, but the plans of “Holy Land in America” started way before. The monastery architecture is a beautiful design, in Byzantium style with slight Romanesque influences and inspired by basilicas in Jerusalem and two cloisters in Rome.

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The monastery is surrounded by Rosary portico, decorated with early Christian symbols. The whole landscape is exact replica of holy sites that were photographed meticulously for the construction.

All the details, small and tiny, on the entering the church, are worth attention.

This is the inside of the church, look at the colours of the dome!

Interestingly enough, the main altar is located right in the center of the church, just beneath the central dome.

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However, the main treat is not even the main hall but rather the “catacombs.” One has to descend just few stairs and enter miniature door (one of many in monastery, which is the height of child of 6 years old: sometimes I felt like Alice in Wonderland wishing for cookie that would make me tiny and fit comfortably into the door space) — and voila, one find themselves inside the shrine of Bethlehem, which is the replica of Grotto of Nativity form the 4th century Church of Nativity.

 

Through the long tunnels, dimly lit by electrical candles, you touch the rough walls while passing by the shrines and bones of different saints and for a moment you feel that heavy history of medieval ages.

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At the end of the tunnels and various hallways you enter the Catacombs, which are the copy of early Christian catacombs of Rome. The wall decorations are copies of original frescoes.

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As I strolled through the land, lost within infinite silent gardens and captured by various solemn statues of St. Francis, I was immersed in the whole replica of history. It was replica from outside, but to me it succeeded in preserving the whole period of history, its essence and meaning.

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