Earlier today, Melissa and I joined a number of people from our church—including one of our priests—for an excursion to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The shrine is the largest Catholic church in North America, and it is among the ten largest church buildings in the world. It is dedicated to the patron saint of the United States: the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

Pope Saint Pius X approved the building of a U.S. national shrine in 1913, and construction began in 1920. The crypt level was finished in 1931, and the upper church was completed (and the entire shrine dedicated) in 1959. Blessed Pope John Paul II declared the shrine a minor basilica in 1990. Today, it is home to over seventy chapels and oratories, and houses countless gorgeous mosaics and statues—predominantly dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her various titles and patronages.

It is also an active church with six masses and five hours of scheduled confessions each day. Remember, the Christian devotion to the saints—including Mary, the greatest saint of all—isn’t an end to itself. The saints help to turn our hearts toward Christ by their example, and by their prayers. You can read some more about the Immaculate Conception and devotion to the saints in my 2010 piece, Immaculate Mary, Your Praises We Sing.

In addition to the various Marian chapels and artwork, there are also statues of many American saints, the tomb of Bishop Thomas Shahan (who founded the shrine), some papal memorabilia, Christological artwork, and more. I took a bunch of photos. Take a look!