As the nation’s preeminent shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother, the Basilica features numerous portrayals of Our Lady holding her Divine Son. From the emotive Our Mother of Africa Chapel to the meditative Our Lady, Help of Christians Chapel, explore the places that honor Mary as the Mother of Christ and reflect on her role as the Mother of the Church in our latest virtual tour post.
Our Lady of Vailankanni Oratory
Located in the Crypt Church, the Our Lady of Vailankanni Oratory was a gift of the Indian American Catholic Association. The devotion to Our Lady of Vailankanni, also known as Our Lady of Good Health, originated in the 16th century during which three miracles occurred: the appearance of the Blessed Mother with the Christ Child, the cure of a crippled child, and the rescue of storm-tossed sailors in the Bay of Bengal. The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Health, located in Vailankanni, India, is considered the “Lourdes of the East” and is the most frequented holy site in that country.
Mary, Help of Christians Chapel
Honoring Mary’s role in providing succor to the faithful, the Mary, Help of Christians Chapel depicts the Virgin on a globe encircled by clouds. Flanked by three sets of adoring angels, she wears a crown and holds a scepter and the Child Jesus, whose outstretched arms reach out to all of humanity.
A gift of the Salesians, the altar frontal features the Salesian coat of arms and the altar reredos depict individuals specially associated with the Salesians, such as Pope (Blessed) Pius IX who approved the Salesian rule, and Mary Mazzarello, co-founder of the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians. The apse’s dark blue Venetian glass mosaic features a triangle, symbolizing the Trinity, the descending right hand of God the Father, and seven rays of fire, symbols of the Holy Spirit. Surrounding the head of Mary are twelve gold stars, symbolizing the tribes of Israel.
Our Mother of Africa Chapel
The Our Mother of Africa Chapel is centered around a bronze sculpture of Our Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child. He points toward the narrative relief of the African-American experience from slavery to emancipation. The 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. The chapel, a gift of the National Black Catholic Congress, stands in remembrance of the painful history of slavery in the United States and the pillar of hope which Our Lady represented to many victims of this tragedy.
Our Lady of La Vang Chapel
Our Lady of La Vang is a Vietnamese Marian tradition which originated in the 18th century. As the lower classes pushed back against the Catholic presence in the country, Christians fled to the remote jungle region of La Vang. While under duress, the faithful would gather each night to pray the rosary under a large tree. According to tradition, on one of those nights while they were praying the Rosary, Mary appeared to them with the infant Jesus and presented a fern to treat their illnesses. She brought encouragement and promised that their prayers would be heard. As the persecution continued, she reportedly appeared multiple times in the same location.
In the Our Lady of La Vang Chapel on the Lower Level of the Basilica, a glass mosaic depicts the faithful of La Vang in period dress as they encounter Mary. Across the chapel, a twin mosaic is a copy of the painting “The Martyrs of Vietnam.” Overhead stretches a dark blue ceiling dotted with 24 stars to represent the night sky, and at the front of the chapel stands a statue of Our Lady carved in a unique multi-marble style by Italian artist Giancarlo Buratti.
Our Lady of Bistrica Chapel
The Marian tradition of Our Lady of Bistrica finds its origin in the 13th century. When the Turks invaded the town of Bistrica in 1545, the statue of Our Lady was hidden by a priest who wished to protect it. However, the priest died without telling anyone where he hid the statue, and it was lost for 40 years before it was discovered when the statue emanated a bright light from the wall of the church. In 1880, the statue also survived a massive fire that destroyed the majority of the church. Due to its unique history, the statue became a symbol of the enduring faith of the Croatian people.
At the Basilica, the marble statue of Our Lady of Bistrica is depicted holding the Infant Jesus and standing on the head of Satan. The pink marble altar is inscribed with the words: “Maria Bistrica, pray for us” in Croatian.
Seven rondels around the Blessed Mother depict Croatian saints and images: Saint Nicholas Tavelic and Blessed Ozana Kotorka; Baptism of a Croatian Peasant; Our Lady of Sinj; the Croatian Coat of Arms; Our Lady of Trsat (Grace), King Zvonimir; and Blessed Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.
Light a Candle at the Basilica
In 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.