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The Basilica of The National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception

The Bell Tower of the Basilica was a gift from the Knights of Columbus


In 1792, Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, the country's first Catholic bishop, consecrated the new American nation under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Immaculate Conception.

In 1847, Pope Pius IX formalized Bishop Carroll's acclamation and officially proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as patroness of the United States. In subsequent years, a few priests imagined an elaborate shrine in honor of their country's patroness.

Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, also rector of the Catholic University of America, proposed the construction of a national shrine to commemorate the Immaculate Conception. He took his appeal to Pope Pius X on August 15, 1913 and received the pope's enthusiastic support. Bishop Shahan then persuaded the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America to donate land at the southwest corner of the campus for his shrine.

In January 1914, Bishop Shahan published the first issue of Salve Regina, a newsletter meant to stir enthusiasm for his project. He wrote that the shrine would be a "monument of love and gratitude, a great hymn in stone as perfect as the art of man can make it and as holy as the intentions of its builders could wish it to be." His newsletter was circulated to dioceses throughout the country and financial donations began to pour into Washington, DC.

In 1915, Father Bernard McKenna of Philadelphia was appointed by Bishop Shahan as first director of the national shrine, bringing the bishop's dream one step closer to reality. Bishop Shahan would oversee the construction of the shrine till his death on March 9, 1932. His body would be the only one interred at the national shrine.

By 1919, architectural drawings were chosen by Bishop Shahan and Father McKenna for the construction of the national shrine by a Boston firm. At first a traditional Gothic architectural style was considered. Bishop Shahan wanted his shrine to be bold and glorious and opted instead for a Byzantine-Romanesque design.

James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, blessed the foundation stone on September 23, 1920. More than 10,000 people attended the mass, including foreign ambassadors, United States government officials, military officers, and other dignitaries. In 1929, the Great Depression halted the construction above the crypt level. United States entry in World War II stalled plans to proceed even further.

Finally in 1953, American bishops under the leadership of John Noll, Archbishop ad personam of Fort Wayne, and Patrick O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, pledged to raise the funds necessary to complete the upper church of the national shrine. On November 20, 1959, thousands of Catholics gathered with their bishops for the dedication of the Great Upper Church. The construction of the Basilica continues today.



In 1957, the Knights of Columbus donated $1 million for the construction of the 329-foot bell tower at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC-- a tower that became known as "the Knights' Tower." The Order subsequently donated a 56-bell carillon to the shrine and provides annual grant funding for the National Shrine's operation.


Incarnation Dome project continues Order’s long history of support.

The Knights of Columbus on Dec. 8, 2006 announced a $1 million gift to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception  in Washington, D.C. The contribution makes the Order the lead donor of a 3,780 square-foot mosaic dome in the Shrine’s Great Upper Church, which will depict themes relating to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The donation continues the Knights’ historic relationship with the National Shrine. In 1959, the Order donated $1 million for the construction of the Shrine’s majestic bell tower. Known as the “Knights’ Tower,” it contains a carillon of 56 bells, also a gift of the Knights of Columbus.

In the 1980s, the Knights established, and have continually funded and maintained, a Knight-staffed usher ministry at the National Shrine. The Order also created a $1 million memorial endowment, named in honor of Past Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart, to promote Marian devotion at the National Shrine and to preserve and maintain the Shrine structure. Since 1989, the Order has regularly funded televised liturgies or other spiritual broadcasts from the National Shrine.

The Knights conducted the largest pilgrimage ever hosted by the National Shrine during the Jubilee Year 2000. The event drew 12,000 Knights and their family members from across North America and the Philippines to Washington. The Knights also sponsored Eucharistic Congresses at the Shrine in 2001 and 2003.

“The Knights have the highest regard for the National Shrine as the preeminent Marian shrine and pilgrimage site in the United States,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. “This gift reaffirms our long-standing relationship with the Shrine and will add to the beauty and distinction of its sacred art.”

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This Web Site Last Updated On February 08, 2008