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Marian Healing in Sculpture: A Virtual Tour

With more than 80 chapels and oratories honoring Mary, the Basilica is proud to represent the peoples, cultures, and traditions that are the fabric of the Catholic faith. Whether through mosaic, stone sculpture, or vivid stained glass, the art and architecture of America’s Catholic Church provide a kaleidoscope of the many manifestations of the Blessed Mother from across the globe.

In this new series on the blog, we invite you to take a virtual tour of the most distinctive places Mary is honored in sculpture at the Basilica – from the beloved Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel to the reflective Our Mother of Sorrows Chapel. Today’s post focuses on sculptures honoring traditions of Marian healing, featuring immersive 360° tour images from throughout the halls of America’s Catholic Church.

The Our Lady of Vailankanni Sculpture

Devotion to Our Lady of Vailankanni began in the mid-16th century after a series of three miracles. According to tradition, Mary first appeared with the Infant Jesus to a shepherd boy, then cured a lame buttermilk vendor, and finally, she preserved a ship of Portuguese sailors from a dangerous storm. The sailors constructed a shrine in her honor and dedicated it on the Nativity of Mary, inspiring a devotion that became associated with a nine-day celebration still observed today.

Our Lady of Vailankanni is honored in an oratory in the Crypt Level of the Basilica. Surrounded by brilliant blue tile, the statue in the chapel is a replica of the original in the Shrine of Vailankanni, and was crowned and consecrated in Vailankanni before it was brought here to the Basilica. Marble reliefs in the chapel depict the stories of the three miracles of Vailankanni, while the rounded brass ceiling shimmers above. A multi-colored marble floor gives the appearance of an Indian rug, with the Indian flag incorporated into the pattern.

The Our Lady of Lourdes Sculpture

According to tradition, the Blessed Mother first appeared to a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France on February 11, 1858. In the months that followed, Bernadette had a total of seventeen visions of the Blessed Mother, including one in which Mary instructed her to dig below a rock to expose a natural spring. Since then, a number of miraculous healings from the waters at Lourdes have been recorded by the Church, and today, the spring is one of the most-visited pilgrimage destinations in the world.

At the Basilica, the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel replicates the grotto at Lourdes, and was the first chapel (besides the Crypt Church) to be constructed at the Basilica. The chapel’s statue was designed by Ernest G. Pellegrini and carved by Irving & Casson, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Above the wrought iron gate is carved the phrase: “I am the Immaculate Conception,” the name by which the Virgin identified herself to Bernadette.

The Our Lady of Charity Sculpture

The devotion of Our Lady of Charity originated in Cuba in the early 17th century. Tradition holds that a group of Cuban peasants on the Bay of Nipe encountered a Marian statue that remained dry despite the raging storm preceding its arrival. On the board to which it was attached were the words “I am the Virgin of Charity.” Astonished, the men took the statue to their village, Barajagua, and it eventually found a home in the “El Cobre” parish. Some reported that during its residence at both places, the statue mysteriously vanished and reappeared in the Cobre Mountains. One night, villagers noticed a great light shining from the mountains, and at its source, they found the statue. On that spot, the villagers constructed a hermitage, where they placed the statue for veneration. Today, the site is known as the National Sanctuary of Cuba, and Cuban residents affectionally refer to Our Lady of Charity as “Cachita.”

You can find this manifestation of the Blessed Mother portrayed in the Basilica in the Our Lady of Charity Oratory in a statue of Botticino and Trani marbles.

The Our Mother of Africa Sculpture

A gift of the National Black Catholic Congress, the Chapel of Our Mother of Africa stands in remembrance of the painful history of slavery in the United States and the pillar of hope which Our Lady represented to enslaved peoples. The chapel is centered around a bronze sculpture of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child, who points toward the narrative relief of the African-American experience from slavery to emancipation. The relief sculpture culminates in a mother and father, freed from the bronze of the relief, stepping into the nave and lifting their arms to Christ on the cross. Our Mother of Africa


Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

Light a Candle at the Basilica

Light a Candle at the BasilicaIn honor of Our Lady, we invite you to light a candle today at the National Shrine. Vigil candles burn in the chapels throughout the Great Upper Church and lower crypt level of the National Shrine. Each candle represents the faith of the supplicants and their fervent prayers entrusted to the loving intercession of the Blessed Mother.

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