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A Virtual Introduction to the Relief Sculptures of the Basilica

Did you know that the artistic and architectural style of the Basilica is heavily influenced by Romanesque art? Known for its effusive use of figurative and stone sculpting, the Romanesque style in the Basilica is showcased perhaps most prominently in its sweeping relief sculptures, created by molding a medium against a flat surface, with a two or three-dimensional form emerging from the plane. Relief sculptures are an ideal mode for portraying expansive scenes or multi-figure art pieces, allowing the artist to create depth while embellishing wide areas.

Today, we invite you to virtually explore some of the Basilica’s most distinctive relief sculptures in stunning 360°.

The Universal Call to Holiness

One of the largest relief sculptures in the world, The Universal Call to Holiness offers an awe-inspiring visualization of a profound spiritual reality: that the call to holiness extends to all peoples of faith in all times and places. Weighing over 37 tons and spanning 780 square feet, the relief portrays people of all ethnicities, ages, rank, and status being drawn to the Holy Spirit. The dozens of figures depicted include the Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Cardinal Hickey.

You can read more about The Universal Call to Holiness and the incredible process used to create it in this post.

Our Lady of Hungary Chapel Reliefs

The Our Lady of Hungary Chapel features two Botticino marble reliefs depicting two significant events in the life of Saint Stephen who is patron of Hungary. The north wall relief, on the right, shows the anointing of Stephen as King of Hungary by Pope Sylvester II in A.D. 1000. In this relief, he is pictured receiving two treasured symbols of the Hungarian nation: the cross and the crown. The piece is titled: The Baptism of Saint Stephen by Saint Adalbert and his Coronation as King of Hungary on Christmas Day, A.D. 1000. The relief on the south wall, pictured left, is titled Saint Stephen Giving His Crown to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Day of His Death, August 15, 1038.

Korean Tympana Reliefs

In celebration of the centennial of Korean immigration to the United States in 2003, two Botticino marble tympana were blessed and dedicated on September 22, 2007: Our Lady of Korea at Cana and Our Lady of the Korean Martyrs. The Korean artists are Song-Ja Rim and Eui-Soon Choi respectively, and the carving was executed in Pietrasanta, Italy (Rambusch Decorating Co.) The tympana are the gift of Korean-Americans.

Our Lady of Korea at Cana

Our Lady of the Korean Martyrs

Our Lady Star of the Sea Relief

Our Lady Star of the Sea, Ave Maris Stella is located to the right of the Korean tympanum. The sculpture portrays Mary calming the troubled sea with the North Star above her head, which is also a symbol for the Blessed Mother. Maris Stella or “Star of the Sea” is the name given to Our Lady by Saint Jerome, her title as the patroness of all who sail the seas. Saint Bonaventure once remarked that she “guides to a landfall in heaven those who navigate the sea of this world in the ship of innocence or penance.” This relief is the gift of the Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America (AOS-USA), a professional association of Catholic seafarers.

Attributes of Mary Reliefs

High upon the walls of the East Tympana in the Great Upper Church, three breathtaking relief sculptures are inlaid above the sanctuary doors. Each sculpture honors different attributes of Mary: Mary, Ever Virgin; Mary, Queen of Nations and Patroness of Pilgrims; and Mary, Mother of God. The left and right reliefs were designed by Theodore C. Barbarossa, and the center relief was designed by Cascieri & di Bicarri.

Mary Queen of All Hearts Relief

In the Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel, a stunning Botticino reredos relief sculpture portrays Mary kneeling by the crib and offering Jesus to the world. Beneath the reredos is Saint Louis de Montfort (center left), and beside him Blessed Marie-Louise de Jésus, a contemporary of de Montfort and co-foundress of the Daughters of Wisdom. The relief was created by artist Jean de Marco, and the chapel was blessed by Bishop Johannes Gunnarsson on May 1, 1965.

Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel Relief

Located in the Upper Church of the Basilica, the Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel features a mosaic reproduction of the Mother of Perpetual Help icon, which rests in the center of a detailed reredos relief sculpture. Carved from Botticino marble by Theodore C. Barbarossa, the relief depicts a number of faithful historic figures, including Saint Clement Maria von Hofbauer, Blessed Francis Seelos, Saints Alphonsus Ligouri, Luke, Ephrem, Gerard Majella, John Neumann, and Bernard.

The chapel is a gift of the Redemptorist Fathers of New York, and was dedicated by Bishop James E. McManus on May 13, 1962.


Basilica Guide and Tour Book, Dr. Geraldine Rohling


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