Once a year, near the Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Knights Tower at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC opens for tours. From the tower windows, you see a different view of the surrounding “Little Rome” neighborhood as well as the dome of the Basilica. I was fortunate to be there this year and gain a new perspective on one of my favorite places to visit in D.C. For more about the National Shrine, see the extensive website. I’ll have a post done shortly with the top ten reasons to visit the Shrine, but this post focuses on the annual bell tower tour.
Waiting in line for tour gave me time to examine the Miraculous Medal Chapel in detail. Like most of the chapels in the National Shrine, brilliant mosaic work decorates the ceiling and walls. A gleaming gold statue of Our Lady as she appeared to St. Catherine Laboure is the focal point. As I stood in the aisle with some Catholic University students and tourists, I prayed for Our Lady’s blessing on the Church.
The marble masterpiece of the Universal Call to Holiness at the rear of the Shrine also was a source of contemplation during my wait for the tour. This contemporary bas relief sculpture is a meditation in stone on how the Holy Spirit draws each of us, from all nations and walks of life, to follow Jesus to the Father.
At last, the line moves! There’s a short climb to the tower, via stairs and a small elevator. First, the tour stops at a waiting area with beautiful blue windows. There, a docent explains the history of the bell tower to us. You can read about it here. A bell tower is a campanile, a wonderfully musical word.
The 56 carillon bells, varying in size, tone and weight (from 21 lbs to 7000 lbs) are played in recitals on Sunday afternoon. Although the tower tour does not include the bells, we visit the carillon practice room. There’s a great view of the dome from there. It is strange but still beautiful to look down on it and the Spanish tiled roofs rather than gaze up at this highly visible landmark from a distance below.
Only four persons at a time can go up in the tower elevator with a guide. At the top are panoramic views of DC’s “Little Rome” area. It is definitely worth the wait to look at landmarks like Trinity College, the Saint John Paul II National Shrine, the Ukrainian National Shrine, and Catholic University from this perspective. I’m including more photos than I usually do in a blog post, for my readers who may not have the opportunity to do the tower tour themselves. Enjoy!