Thursday, June 28, 2012

Expedition (aka Pilgrimage) to America's First Cathedral

( When doing the research to publish this blog post, I learned that the more accurate definition for a journey to a place of spiritual significance is called a "pilgrimage", rather than an expedition.  So perhaps, I should start another blog entitled "Pilgrimages by Patricia", but for the time being, I am sticking with the current title that uses the expedition word!) This photo shows the front of the Baltimore Basilica, also known as America's First Cathedral.  The Baltimore Basilica is also ranked #2 out of the top eight National Shrines of the United States Catholic Church.  In addition, it holds the rank of Minor Basilica, a Marian Shrine, and a National Historic Landmark.
 The Basilica is the design of architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was America's first professionally trained architect.  He was also the architect Thomas Jefferson used to design the U.S. Capitol.  The construction was done under the direction of America's first Catholic Bishop, John Carroll.
 The front has a classical Greek portico with ionic columns.  The tops of the columns are covered in spikes to keep birds from nesting there.
 However, there are no spikes on the portico, and this visitor had taken refuge under it, to get out of the rain that was falling on the morning of my visit. 
 The Basicilica is located in the Mt. Vernon district of Baltimore, which might be considered a cultural "mecca" in downtown Baltimore because of the numerous museums, public library, and statuary found there.  To learn more about the Mt. Vernon district, as well as the many other neighborhoods of Baltimore, log on to  for detailed information. 
 Visitors to the church may take a guided tour with a docent, or a self-guided walking tour.  Of course, when Mass is being held, or other events such as weddings, baptisms, etc., visitation is restricted.  You can check their website at to get details of hours of operation, location, and parking.
 I was told the red and yellow structure is called the "Papal Umbrella" .   ( In fact, Pope John Paul II visited the Baltimore Basilica twice.  The pontiff, who came to Baltimore in 1995 to complete his formal visitation of a pope to a basilica, had also been there in 1976.  At that time, he was known as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, and he came with 17 other Polish bishops. )  The Papal Umbrella originated in Italy for the simple purpose of providing shade for the Pope, when he was outside.  These days it is more a symbol of ecclesiastical heraldry, and is the insigne of a basilica, usually displayed to the right of the main altar. 
 In my research, I learned that a shrine is a sacred place devoted to a specific saint, martyr, or ancestor, at which they are venerated.  A shrine at which votive candle offerings are made is called an altar. 
 The beauty of the interior is most conducive to a spiritual experience where one can meditate in silence or join with others in worshipping God.
 When the beautiful pipe organ shown in this photo is playing, it is probably an audio example of the verse in the Bible that says "Come, let's shout praises to GOD, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us!  Let's march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns!"  (Psalm 95:1, The Message)
 Another famous person that visited this Basilica was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Her visit was in 1996, and this photo depicts a remembrance of her.
 Outside the basilica is a gift shop, that stocks a myriad of faith-based gift items and inspirational writings.  Some of these are described on their website, and can be ordered without actually making a visit to the basilica gift shop in person. 
 Adjacent to the Baltimore Basilica, is the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden that opened in 2008. 
 This is one of the simplest, yet most meaningful, garden gates I have ever photographed.
 The centerpiece of the garden is a statue of the Holy Father with two children, that was based on a photo taken during his 1995 Papal visit to Baltimore. 
 The garden provides pilgrims and visitors with an outdoor spiritual retreat within the city, while paying homage to Pope John Paul II, who has been described as one of the 20th century's true visionaries. 
 The large wall mural of flowers is poignant with meaning as they represent the flowers associated with Mary.    The rose (on the right) symbolizes the Virgin herself (early Rosary beads were made from compressed rose petals).  Next to the rose, the marigold was called "Mary's Gold",  by early Christians who placed the flowers around statues of Mary, because they had no coins to leave as offerings.  Next to the marigold is the lily, which is a symbol of the annunciation, and Mary's purity.  Above the large lily, is the flower "lily of the valley", which is also called "Our lady's tears" (it was said to have grown where Mary wept).
 The iron fence that surrounds the prayer garden, is described as a modern interpretation of the one that surrounds the basilica.  I especially liked the design of the cross in it.  I read that an overhead view of the garden reveals that it is in the shape of a fish, reflecting the image often associated with Jesus throughout the Bible.
 The banner near the front of the basilica was proclaiming the "Fortnight for Freedom", currently in progress.  One aspect of that celebration calls for Christian churches across America (not just those that are Catholic) to ring their bells at high noon on the Fourth of July.  The purpose of this is an audible reminder to all within earshot of the important role that the churches of the United States of America have played in securing and maintaining the many freedoms that we as Americans enjoy.  So Americans----ring your bells at noon on Wednesday, July 4, and as Martin Luther King, Jr.,  proclaimed "Thank God Almighty" for our freedom!!  Thank God for the freedom you have to travel, and experience miles of smiles across the U.S.A.!   Tricia
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