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Historic Highlights

In 1847, at the petition of the bishops of the United States, Pope Pius IX named the Blessed Virgin Mary patroness of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1913, Pope Pius X approved plans for the building of a national shrine in the United States, and made a personal contribution for its construction.

The cornerstone of the National Shrine was laid in 1920. 

The first Mass was held on Easter Sunday 1924. 

1n 1926, the Crypt Church was completed. 

The remainder of the Crypt level was completed in 1931. 

The Depression and World War II halted construction of the Shrine’s Great Upper Church superstructure. 

With the end of World War II and the prosperity of the post war years, construction resumed in the Marian Year of 1954.

The superstructure or the Great Upper Church was completed in 1959.  The National Shrine was dedicated on November 20, 1959.

Embellishment and ornamentation of the interior of the National Shrine has continued since.

On October 7, 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first reigning Pope to visit the National Shrine.  In the Great Upper Church, he proclaimed:

“This Shrine speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from the various countries of the Old World.  When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love for the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands.  These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a Mother they all had in common.  While their faith in Christ made all of them aware of being one People of God, this awareness became all the more vivid through the presence of the Mother in the work of Christ and the Church.”

In 1990, Pope John Paul II elevated the National Shrine to the status of a minor basilica, bestowing this papal honor for its historical importance, dignity and significance as a center of worship and devotion and as an expression of a special union with the Holy Father.

On Wednesday, April 16, 2008, the first day of his Apostolic Journey to the United States, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate Solemn Vespers and meet with the Bishops of the United States.

In his address to the Bishops in the Crypt Church of the Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI exclaimed,

“Dear Brother Bishops, it gives me great joy to greet you today at the start of my visit to this country…in this Basilica dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a shrine of special significance to American Catholics, right in the heart of your capital city.  Gathered in prayer with Mary, Mother of Jesus, we lovingly commend to our heavenly Father the people of God in every part of the United States...I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States.  May she who carried within her womb the hope of all nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son.  To all of you, and to your clergy, religious and lay faithful, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Lord.”

Prior to his departure Pope Benedict XVI bestowed “a Golden Rose for Our Mother Mary” upon the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as a sign of his reverence, esteem and paternal affection. The Golden Rose is an honor dating back to the eleventh century and its conferral is rare and considered a great privilege.


 
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