The Shrine's Final Jewel

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The last jewel has arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. And what a jewel: a 780-square foot, 38-ton relief carved in Botticino Classico marble quarried from the mountains in Brescia, northern Italy. Designed by local artist George Carr of Silver Spring, Md., "The Universal Call to Holiness" theme is taken from the Lumen Gentium document of Vatican II and was chosen by Cardinal James Hickey, who as archbishop of Washington serves as chairman of the basilica's Board of Trustees. Joseph and Bertha Braddock of Alexandria funded the $1 million, 7-year long project. Through their charitable organization, The Aztec Foundation, the philanthropists, along with their sons, provided the means to make a work of art out of 16 pieces of approximately 200 million-year-old marble. In a news conference on Monday, Joseph Braddock acknowledged the efforts and hard work of the many people that have contributed to the quarrying, carving and installation of the 50 foot-long relief. Shrine spokesman Peter Sonski said, "to the best of our knowledge this is the largest relief of its kind in the world. "Dr. and Mrs. Braddock have been involved in every decision, every detail of this project. Their generosity is magnanimous and their humility is truly edifying. This has been for both of them the proverbial 'labor of love.' "Without their dedication and participation, this magnificent carving would never have become what it has: an inspiring work that speaks the truth of God's infinite love for mankind." In the sculpture, light rays originate from a dove that represents the Holy Spirit. Six groups of people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are moving toward the central figure of the dove, as they are all called to holiness. "I hope that the simple message of the sculpture, that people can achieve holiness through the conduct of their lives, can be grasped, intuitively, by almost anyone," said George Carr. "I am honored to have played a part in this important project, and I greatly appreciate the inspiration, skill and talent of the many others who helped bring it to fruition." The 16 pieces of the relief were carved by a team of 22 artisans at Cervetti Franco & C. snc, a marble carving studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, under the direction of Franco Cervetti. The pieces were then shipped to Norfolk, and from there to Washington. Once in Washington, the 16 pieces were the responsibility of Rugo & Carosi, natural stone and mosaic contractors who specialize in this type of work. The furnishing and installation of "The Universal call to Holiness" was handled entirely by the firm. In addition, Rugo & Carosi is completing the installation of the surrounding marble cladding, arches, structural steel support systems and masonry which cover the existing brick. "The Basilica is America's patronal church and perhaps the most popular place of pilgrimage within the United States," said Sonski. "To have this grand image means that it will be an inspiration for many thousands of pilgrims and visitors, silently conveying the eternal truth that each of them was made in the image and likeness of God and destined to be with Him forever in heaven." On Monday, the last piece of the magnificent relief was put in place by a team of workers from Rugo & Carosi in a ceremony described by Sonki as "entirely fitting." "The installation of the centerpiece — the Holy Spirit — was entirely fitting, because it truly is the piece that gives the other pieces meaning," he said. "God sent His Spirit to inspire and lead us to our loving Father. Placing that piece today changed the relief from a simple but beautiful sculpture to something sacred — something that communicates through grace." The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic Church in the Americas and the patronal church of United States Catholics. The Basilica houses an extensive collection of sacred art and 750,000 visitors come to pray there each year. "The Shrine is preeminently a place of pilgrimage and prayer, annually welcoming more than half a million visitors from across the country and the world," said Msgr. Michael J. Bransfield, rector of the Basilica. "The pursuit of holiness, a fundamental theme of the Gospels and Second Vatican Council, remains our lifelong objective — and it has been aptly interpreted in this wonderful work of art," he said. "It was over five years ago that Cardinal James Hickey first discussed with me his hopes for completing the imposing rear wall of the Nave of the Great Upper Church. It was the only wall that had yet to be clad in marble as the others were throughout the Shrine."

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