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Franciscan Monastery: Washington, DC’s Best-Kept Tourist Secret


You’ll think you’re in the Holy Land, only without paying the airfare.

Nestled in a corner of northeast Washington, DC and off the standard tour-bus route, you’ll find the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, officially known as Mount St. Sepulchre. It’s just minutes from the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the campus of Catholic University.

Located on a wooded hillside in a largely residential neighborhood, the monastery was built more than a century ago. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1991. Visitors from all faiths come from around the world to see replicas of famous Holy Land shrines. Among the most popular are a clone of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; the tomb of Christ; and one of the Grotto of Lourdes, where St. Bernadette encountered the Virgin Mary. The Nativity Grotto has been reproduced exactly as it currently exists in Bethlehem. Photos are permitted both inside Mount St. Sepulchre and on the grounds.

The gorgeous domed Blessed Sacrament chapel is open to pilgrims, who are welcome to attend masses seven days a week. Guided tours are available Monday through Saturday at 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, and 3:00 PM. On Sunday, guides begin tours at 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, and 3:00 PM. There is also a gift shop available at the monastery, which is located at 1400 Quincy Street, Northeast, Washington, DC 20017. Although admission is free, signs advise that donations are appreciated.

In addition to the replicas of famous shrines, visitors who take a tour will be able to see eerily authentic catacombs in the Martyr’s Crypt. Short passageways link to the Purgatory Chapel. In the chapels of St. Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Francis, you’ll see breathtaking stained glass, marble altars, and wood carvings in narrative arrangements.

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Surrounding the beautiful domed church are colorful seasonal flowers and a cloister walk. Various statues and the reproductions of the Holy Land shrines are located throughout both upper- and lower-level gardens. Many area residents take the tour and return dozens of times just to sit quietly on the grounds. While visitors may not enter the Friary, the monastery offers a total of 20 attractions.

Can’t make it to Washington this year? Visitors to the monastery’s web site at http://www.myfranciscan.org/ can take a virtual tour.

Mount St. Sepulchre is operated by the Franciscan order known as the Commissariat of the Holy Land in America. In addition to the friars at the monastery, those located overseas have custody of many responsibilities in the Holy Land. They carry out their pastoral activity in 29 parishes and in numerous churches, chapels, and oratories. They care for the three largest parishes in the Holy Land: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. They also work in Syria and Lebanon.

A complete tour of the shrine and its grounds takes about two hours. Although there is no public dining facility on the premises, reasonable meals are available in the cafeteria on the lower level of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which is about a 15-minute walk. Parking at both the monastery and the Basilica is free. Mount St. Sepulchre is also accessible via metro bus or train and can be reached at 202-526-6800.