Franciscan Monastery

Franciscan Monastery photo

Editorial Review

Seeking Serenity Now? An Oasis of Calm Awaits.

Didn't snag a ticket to see Pope Benedict XVI next week at Nationals Park but still might like a little time to reflect? The Franciscan Monastery in Northeast Washington, with its arched walkways, 15 miniature outdoor chapels and well-kept garden, offers a meditative oasis in the city. Walking around the 44 acres quietly, you might feel as if you are in a foreign (and much more peaceful) land.

The monastery offers tours daily, but before going inside, take time to meander around the grounds. This is not a place to go, see and leave quickly. Walk slowly around the Rosary Portico (that's the covered passageway bordering the front garden). Notice the mosaics above each altar depicting scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus. Note the Angelic Greeting in almost 200 languages. Sit on the bench outside the replica of Saint Francis's first church near Assisi, Italy. Walk down to the lower garden and see the replicas of the Grotto of Gethsemane and the tomb of Mary.

Oh, and take time to actually smell the flowers. Hyacinths, daffodils, pansies, lily of the valley, tulips and phlox are now in bloom.

On the tour, you will learn that the monastery was built in 1899 and that many of the shrines are replicas of ones in Israel. A copy of Jesus's tomb is the exact height and distance from a copy of Mount Calvary.

"That's why they built this church," said guide Louis Goliwas, "so [we would] know what it looks like over there."

The tour will also lead you into the catacombs, where there are bone relics. (The catacombs are open only to guided tours.) There are also more chapels there. The coolest (and creepiest) part of the maze-like cave is the altar in the Purgatory Chapel. A bas-relief depicts souls in purgatory imploring Mary and the angels. In the passageway beyond that, there are two gates on either side of the wall and stairs leading up. This is a replica of the room where the Romans would have held the Christians before they were fed to the lions in the first century.

Before you leave, look at the artifacts in the hall outside the gift store. The Byzantine crosses from the third century are especially intriguing.

-- Moira E. McLaughlin (April 11, 2008)

What's it cost? Free. Donations are suggested at the end of the tour.

Where is it? Grounds are open daily 10-5. Hour-long tours are Monday-Saturday at 10, 11, 1, 2 and 3 and Sunday at 1, 2 and 3. Take Metro's Red Line to Brookland/CUA. Exit right from the station, go left on 10th Street, bear right on Michigan Avenue and then take a right on Quincy. It's about a 15-minute walk. The monastery is at the top of the hill. There is also free parking.

If you have more than three hours? Head to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center at 3900 Harewood Rd. NE. The photos in the back left corner next to the Papal and Polish Heritage Room are the best part of the museum. Or pop into the Basilica of the National Shrine at 400 Michigan Ave. NE. Check the newest mosaic dome, second from the back, called the Incarnation Dome. Hungry? Grab lunch at Colonel Brooks Tavern, 901 Monroe St. NE.