A gorgeous day needs to savored with an outdoor walk in a garden. Thus today was the perfect day to discover the “oasis of peace” of the Franciscan monastery here in the Washington DC. (Last week would have been wonderful too, but other things came up.) I had heard about the monastery’s small grottoes and gardens through various city blogs. And though not an incredible “adventure,” it was something new and beautiful to see.
My friend Laurie went with me. As she had asked how old the monastery was, here is the date: the main building was built between 1898 to 1899, while the gardens, tombs, and grottoes were built 80 years ago (so 1930s). The total complex is 44 acres, but I think the main buildings and gardens are on 11 acres, if I read the historic register correctly.
The gardens weren’t large, but there were several different scenes, and different landscapes: woods, well-tended rose gardens, and definitely the grottoes, which were more tombs usually. Interestingly, the monastery’s grounds include many replicas of tombs throughout the world.
The one lack that both Laurie and I felt were that none of the plants were labeled. These are not gardens for a lover of plants/botanist, but instead are contemplative gardens, with many benches, and little shrines to saints throughout.
There is a schedule provided on when most things bloomed, but unfortunately, we had missed the roses – the place would have been incredible with the roses in full bloom. (Hey, I just saw that they have beehives there – darn, I missed that!).
Prayers were throughout the portico area – apparently in 200 languages.
We could not get into the replicas of Roman catacombs, as that tour is only on Saturday. But we the chapel was large and impressive, and gilded, very gilded. Catholic chapels are not my cup of tea, except for stained glass windows. I love stained glass windows, but, unfortunately, I cannot share that love with you because my picture of them did not turn out well.
I talked to a man in a white uniform with medals, and I hated to ask who he was; several other men wandered with in similar uniforms. (there was no priest collar, but if you know, please help fill in the details). The man noted that this monastery was very crowded in the 1940s. Lines would form to get in. As he said, times change. Many people are less devout (I am not religious myself). However, there was a young Asian woman on her knees earnestly going through a long litany in front of a small altar, with someone who looked like her mother behind her. And there were the prayers laid on the replica of St. Mary’s tomb.
I did wonder, however, if the long lines he talked about might be due to something else – the lack of air-conditioning in the 40s. The underground tombs, the grottos (some with running water), and the fact that the monastery was on one of the highest hills of all of DC, with fantastic breezes and porticoes, would mean incredible relief from DC’s awful summers. It was not a hot day today (it was the most perfect possible temperature), but I could sense how much cooler some of the tombs were.
The grounds were gorgeous, and I envy (yes, a sin) the gardener(s). It would be very peaceful to garden in such a space.