Did you know that the National Shrine has a chapel dedicated to Our Mother of Africa? A gift of the National Black Catholic Congress, the Chapel of Our Mother of Africa stands in remembrance of the painful history of slavery in the United States and the pillar of hope which Our Lady represented to enslaved peoples. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the dedication of this chapel on August 30, we invite you to virtually tour the space and learn more about its breathtaking art.
About the Chapel
The chapel is centered around a bronze sculpture of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child, who points toward the narrative relief of the African-American experience from slavery to emancipation. The relief 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.
Symbolism in the Chapel
Numerous marine elements in the chapel evoke the tragedy of the slave trade across the seas: the vaulted mahogany ceiling is reminiscent of the hulls of sea-faring vessels and the Botticino marble walls feature etchings of fish and water symbols.
At the inlay in the threshold of the chapel is the outline of the Henrietta Marie, a British merchant slave ship. The vessel held about 300 captives who were either seized by the merchants or bought from rival African tribes. On its return voyage to England, the ship sank during a storm off Key West, Florida, and left no survivors. Here in the chapel, each line in the inlay represents a person who perished in the wreckage.
On the right side of the chapel is a hand-oiled cherry wood cross by Jeffrey Brosk with a solid ebony figure of the Crucified Jesus by Juvenal Kaliki, carved according to the 500-hundred-year-old tradition of his Entabeni tribe of Morogoro Tanzania. In African sculpture, the portrayal of the human form emphasizes characteristics rather than proportions as a means of communication – and in this piece, the geometric design of the face is evocative of the triangle, a symbol of the Trinity.
Take the Virtual Tour
Explore this beautiful space virtually – immerse yourself in panoramic 360° views below.
Prayer to Our Mother of Africa
The following prayer is inscribed in the chapel:
Mary, Our Mother of Africa, hear the drumbeat of our prayers. May Your Son Jesus continue to bring us joy, receive our tensions, and forgive us our sins. Help us to walk in His light. Help us to help others do the same. And bring us to life everlasting with the Holy Saints and Angels. Amen.
The Basilica Guidebook, Dr. Geraldine Rohling