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The Holy Spirit in the Art of the Basilica

As we celebrate Pentecost, it is a special reminder to the faithful to honor the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Not only does He, as the Catholic Catechism tells us, “awaken faith in us” and “communicate to us the new life, which is to ‘know the Father and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ,’” but He also works in our sanctification. As the Holy Spirit is ever-present in our lives, often in subtle ways, so is He represented in the art of the National Shrine. Today, we invite you to explore seven places where He is portrayed in the Basilica with symbols of doves, fire, and more, gracing windows, mosaics, and sculptures, reminding us that He is always near to us in our worship.

1. The Pope Pius X Chapel

In the Pope Pius X Chapel, the Holy Spirit is featured in the beautiful marble altar frontal. Pictured as a dove, He is shown guiding a ship that represents the Church. Pius X’s papal motto, “To restore all things in Christ,” captures the powerful effect of the Holy Spirit working among us.

2. The Dome Above the Crypt Church Altar

Above the altar in the Crypt Church, the center of the dome demonstrates the Holy Spirit’s overarching guidance by portraying a large dove overhead. The dove is surrounded by an eight-sided starburst with angels around it, representing renewal and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Outside the starburst, the four apostles are represented by their respective symbols of a lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle.

3. The Sacristy Doors

Made of bronze weighing two tons, yet perfectly balanced to close at the lightest touch, the Sacristy doors of the Great Upper Church have symbols of seven doves representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The tree of Jesse, with blossoms symbolizing the lineage of David, is depicted in the center. Two branches represent Jesus’ passion and death, and it also features a chi rho for Christ and an ‘M’ for Mary.

4. The Trinity Dome Windows

The Trinity Dome windows are full of symbols for God, including the Holy Spirit. One window displays a dove, another the seven-branched candelabra representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. A flame calls to mind Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, and lastly, a ship with a dove represents the guidance of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

5. The Mary, Help of Christians Chapel

The altar frontal of the Mary, Help of Christians Chapel features a triangle as a symbol of the Trinity, as well as seven rays of fire, symbols of the Holy Spirit, on a shimmering blue background.

6. The Great Upper Church Baldachin

Contained in the massive Baldachin of the Great Upper Church is a starburst mosaic, and at the very center of the mosaic is a bronze dove sculpture of the Holy Spirit. Artist Xavier Cobrero sculpted the dove, while the mosaic was created by Ravenna Mosaic Co.

7. The Trinity Dome

The most prominent place where the Holy Spirit is represented in the Basilica is the Trinity Dome. In the center of the Trinity Dome is what is known as a “Holy Ghost Hole,” which symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Additionally, in the mosaic itself, hovering above the seated Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove, demonstrating His intercession for us before the Father, as described in Romans 8:26-27:

“The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”


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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