The Five Domes of the Basilica and the Story They Tell

The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is approaching – a special day dedicated to reflecting upon the sacred beauty of our Triune God. The wonder of this divine mystery is portrayed in the Basilica’s Trinity Dome, one of the Basilica’s five domes which each tell a unique story of scriptural truths.

The Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is composed of five distinctive domes: the Incarnation Dome, the Redemption Dome, the Trinity Dome, the Sanctification Dome, and the Glorification Dome. These domes lead directly to the North Apse, where Christ in Majesty is depicted in 3610 square feet of mosaic ornamentation. According to John de Rosen (1891-1982), the artist consultant for the National Shrine:

 As in St. Mark’s in Venice, the chief characteristics of the interior of the Shrine are a succession of decorated domes. Each dome is a unit in itself, leading to the last half dome of the apse of the church, the Christ in Majesty.

Although each dome is different, the Trinity Dome unifies all five into a coherent storyline ending with the Christ in Majesty mosaic in the North Apse. Upon looking closely at the theme of each dome, it becomes apparent that they form a timeline of the New Testament.

First, the Incarnation Dome depicts the moment at which Christ entered this world and was made manifest. The Redemption Dome depicts the story of how Christ redeemed us through his death and resurrection. The Trinity Dome encompasses the great mystery of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels and saints, encircled by the Nicene Creed. The Sanctification Dome portrays the Descent of the Holy Spirit, when the apostles were given the grace and courage to go out and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The Glorification Dome depicts the prophecies of the end times, the Triumph of the Lamb. This dome naturally leads to Christ in Majesty, the mosaic of Christ in all his glory as he will appear at the end of our world.

Incarnation Dome

The Incarnation Dome

  • This is the first dome on the path to the Christ in Majesty
  • The dome was dedicated on November 17, 2007.
  • The mosaic spans 3,780 square feet.
  • The dome divides into four quadrants which depict the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Wedding Feast at Cana, and the Transfiguration.
  • Its four pendentives portray significant persons from the scriptural and prophetic accounts of these events: Jeremiah, Isaiah, the Matriarch Sarah, and the Prophet Micah.
  • The base of the dome is encircled with the passage: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw his glory – glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and of truth.” (John 1:14)
  • The dome’s mosaic was designed by Leandro Miguel Velasco of Rambusch Decorating Co., the same company which recently designed the Trinity Dome. Travisanutto Co., from Spilimbergo Italy, manufactured the dome, as well as the Trinity Dome.

Redemption Dome

The Redemption Dome

  • This is the second dome on the path to the Christ in Majesty
  • The dome was dedicated on November 16, 2006.
  • It is the exact size of the Incarnation dome.
  • Like its sibling dome, the mosaic splits into four quadrants, which depict four redemptive acts of Christ: the Temptation in the Desert, the Crucifixion, the Descent into Hell, and the Resurrection from the Dead.
  • The four pendentives portray significant persons from these biblical accounts: Lazarus, Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary Magdalene.
  • The base of the dome is encircled with the passage: “Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
  • The Incarnation, Redemption, and Trinity Domes have similar style since they are designed by Leandro Miguel Velasco of Rambusch Decorating Co. and manufactured by the Travisanutto Co.

Trinity Dome

The Trinity Dome

  • This is the third dome on the path to the Christ in Majesty
  • It was dedicated on December 8, 2017.
  • The Trinity Dome is the central and largest dome of the National Shrine, covering 18,300 square feet.
  • The dome depicts the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and a procession of saints who have an association with the United States and the National Shrine.
  • The four pendentives portray the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  • The base of the dome is encircled with the Nicene Creed.
  • The style of the dome is similar to its 2006 and 2007 predecessors, since it is designed and manufactured by the same companies: Rambusch Decorating Co. and the Travisanutto Co.

Sanctification Dome

The Sanctification Dome

  • This is the fourth dome on the path to the Christ in Majesty
  • The dome was dedicated in the year 1968.
  • It portrays the famous scene of the Pentecost event, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, using bold reds and golds.
  • The mosaic covers 3,950 square feet and is made up of over 1.25 million pieces of glass.
  • The four pendentives display people from Africa, Asia, Europe and America. They symbolize the sanctification of the world by the Holy Spirit.
  • The dome has a different style than the first three, as it was designed by Max Ingrand, a famous glass worker based out of Paris, France. Ravenna Mosaic Co., based in Missouri and New York, manufactured the piece.

Glorification of the Lamb Dome

The Glorification of the Lamb Dome

  • This is the fifth dome and is the closest in proximity to the Christ in Majesty
  • The dome was dedicated in the year 1966.
  • The mosaic covers 3,340 square feet.
  • It portrays the apocalyptic theme featuring the lamb with seven horns and seven eyes at the center and an open scroll at its feet. Twenty-four elders dressed in white and wearing gold crowns form the image of a Greek cross. They are separated by four living creatures: a lion, an eagle, an ox and a man.
  • Each of the four pendentives depicts an angel holding a quarter of the earth, illustrating the Kingship of Christ.
  • Instead of wrapping around the base of the dome like the others, the message of this dome splits into each of the four quadrants. Each one contains a statement from the hymn of the elders, the living creatures, and the myriad of angels.
  • Although this dome had a different designer than the Sanctification dome, both were manufactured by Ravenna Mosaic Co., lending the two domes an artistic similarity.

The Ultimate Purpose

What is the ultimate purpose of these domes? To summarize in the words of Pope John Paul II in Article 12 of his ‘Letter to Artists’:

In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.

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