Did you know that the Basilica’s Universal Call to Holiness is one of the largest relief sculptures in the world? It provides the faithful with an awe-inspiring visualization of a profound spiritual reality: that the call to holiness extends to all peoples of faith in all times and places. Today, we invite you to experience this space virtually and learn more about its symbolism and history.
The Significance of the Universal Call to Holiness
Weighing over 37 tons and spanning 780 square feet, The Universal Call to Holiness portrays people of all ethnicities, ages, rank, and status being drawn to the Holy Spirit. The almost 50 figures depicted include the Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Cardinal Hickey. During the conception of the relief, now Cardinal James Hickey first suggested the theme of universal holiness, as expressed in §40 of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium:
“All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.”
From Vision to Reality
An Italian Botticino-Classico marble sculpture, The Universal Call to Holiness was designed by artist George Carr. Initially, Carr began his design process with sketches, followed by the creation of a 1/6th-scale sculpture prototype, consulting human models as references for the work. Lastly, he created a full-scale model of clay measuring 52 feet by 15 feet with the help of two assistants, which was then cast in plaster and shipped to Pietrasanta, Italy, to be carved into stone. There, master carver Franco Cervietti led a team of 22 other marble artists in the project, which took over a year to complete.
Once the carving process was finished, the relief was packed up and shipped to Washington, D.C. in 16 pieces. Incorporating the relief into the architecture of the Basilica was no small feat, as some of the individual pieces weighed over 9,000 pounds! Architects had to invent a special 300-foot-long rail system in order to transport the pieces across the marble floor.
Twenty-three years ago, on November 14, 1999, over 2,500 worshippers and 60 bishops gathered to dedicate The Universal Call to Holiness in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the National Shrine. Today, it remains a focal point of the Basilica’s sanctuary, inspiring the congregants of “America’s Catholic Church” to pursue holiness in their own lives.
Take the Virtual Tour
You can experience The Universal Call to Holiness in immersive 360° below with our virtual tour!
American Byzantine, Journey Films
The Basilica Guidebook, ed. Dr. Geraldine Rohling