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Symbols of the Sea at the Basilica

On May 22, the Church celebrates the National Day of Prayer for Mariners and People of the Sea, honoring all who work or travel on the seas. As we observe this day of remembrance, we invite you to discover where you can find symbols of the sea in the National Shrine and encourage you to pray for the protection of seafarers and their families working around the world.

The Our Lady, Star of the Sea Rondel

As you walk into the Great Upper Church and raise your eyes to the east narthex, you’ll find an elegant relief sculpture of Mary calming the troubled sea with the North Star above her head, known as Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Ave Maris Stella. Under the title “Star of the Sea,” a name given to her by Saint Jerome, Mary is recognized as the patroness of all who sail the seas. The sculpture was designed by Louis DiCocco and St. Jude Liturgical Arts Studio and was the gift of the Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America, a professional association of Catholic seafarers.

The Our Mother of Africa Chapel

Did you know that the center of a chapel is the known as the nave, a word derived from the Latin navis for “ship”? Located in the Crypt Church, the Our Mother of Africa Chapel brings this parallel to life, with numerous marine elements in the chapel evoking the tragedy of the slave trade across the seas.

Not only is the vaulted mahogany ceiling reminiscent of the hulls of sea-faring vessels, but the Botticino marble walls feature etchings of fish and water symbols.

The threshold of the chapel also features an inlay depicting the outline of the Henrietta Marie, a British merchant ship employed in the cruel commerce of the slave trade, with dozens of lines each representing an individual person who was aboard. During its voyages, the ship would hold as many as 300 captives who were either seized by the merchants or purchased from rival African tribes.

The chapel was a gift from the National Black Catholic Congress.

The Pope Pius X Chapel

In the Pope Pius X Chapel, the altar frontal features four carvings meant to represent different aspects of his life work with the Church. One such carving depicts a ship on a stormy sea with a dove at the stern, symbolizing the Holy Spirit guiding the Church in the struggle against Modernism.

Jesus Teaching By the Sea: Lower Sacristy Entrance

Gracing the walls of the entrance to the Lower Sacristy is a breathtaking work of stained glass depicting the story of Mark 4:1. Called Jesus Teaching by the Sea, it features Jesus standing in a boat as He teaches the faithful gathered on the shore. The glass was a gift of John R. Gallick of Philadelphia and was created by Arthur DeCarlo in 1996.

The Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel

Featuring various emblems of the Blessed Virgin as described in the writings of de Montfort, the Mary, Queen of All Hearts Chapel also includes depictions of two symbols of the sea: the anchor and rope and the Star of the Sea, reminding the faithful of Mary’s patronage of seafarers. They are portrayed in mosaic tiles on the chapel’s back wall along with eight other symbols. 

The Our Lady of Good Voyage Oratory

The Oratory of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, Antipolo, is located at the northeast corner of the Crypt Church. A gift of the global Filipino Catholic Community, this Oratory honors a Marian devotion that dates back to the 1600s, at a time when galleon trade between the Philippines and Mexico was at its height.

On the left side of the oratory is a mural titled The Arrival. A gift of the master painter of the Philippine genre, Jose V. Blanco, it details the coming of the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage to Manila on a galleon. James Cardinal Hickey of Washington dedicated the oratory on June 7, 1997.


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.

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