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Holy Land of America

Brother Petras overlooking the main altar in the church at the Holy Land of America. In the center is the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre replica.
Susan Stone, NPR /
Brother Petras overlooking the main altar in the church at the Holy Land of America. In the center is the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre replica.
Altar in the Bethlehem Grotto at Holy Land of America.
Susan Stone, NPR /
Altar in the Bethlehem Grotto at Holy Land of America.

The church and grounds at Holy Land of America contain full-size replicas of many of the Christian shrines and chapels of Jerusalem. The faux biblical landscape can be found at the Franciscan Monastery in northeast Washington, D.C. Dedicated in 1899, at a time when few Catholics in America could afford to travel to Jerusalem, the display is viewed by the Franciscans as an extension of their mission as guardians and caretakers of many other actual Christian shrines throughout the world. NPR's Jacki Lyden visits the monastery for All Things Considered.

Brother Roger Petras, a Franciscan friar since 1948, describes the nature of the relationship of the Washington, D.C. monastery to the actual shrines: "It’s not just a place where we show replicas. All our work here is for the holy land." Petras makes the point that it is not a "Catholic Disneyland."

He spent 30 years in the real holy land, before coming to Holy Land of America, and he is well aware of the difference between the two places. "There's nothing like making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Seeing this place they [visitors] may be inspired to make special sacrifices to go to Jerusalem themselves," Petras says.

The church and grounds of the Monastery of Mt. Sepulcher are decorated with models of many of the principal shrines and chapels found in the holy land and in Rome. The tomb of Jesus, the place of the Nativity, the catacombs of Rome, the Lourdes Grotto and the site of Mary's annunciation are among the many replicas.

And there are some bonuses, too: on the grounds outside the church are gardens, additional shrines and a mosaic of the Hail Mary prayer in 140 different languages.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.