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Monumental sculpture installed at Shrine

(Published May 3, 1999)

Workmen are about to lower the last of 16 weighty pieces into place to complete installation of the largest-known marble relief carving at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington.

The sculpture, entitled "Universal Call to Holiness," was designed by local artist George Carr and was the gift of Alexandria residents Dr. and Mrs. Joseph V. Braddock.

Master artisans in Italy recently finished carving the 38-ton sculpture in Botticino-Classico marble quarried in northern Italy. The carving, which is being installed on the interior south wall of the shrine, measures 15 feet high and 50 feet wide, making it the largest known marble relief in the world.

Installation has been in progress for about the past month, according to shrine spokesman Peter Sonski.

Workmen had to create what Sonski described as a "railroad track" to bring the 16 separate pieces into the church. Elaborate interior scaffolding and extra structural supports also had to be constructed and special measures taken to protect the shrine’s irreplaceable Tennessee marble floor from damage.

Sculptor Carr, who specializes in realist-figurative sculpture, depicted the relief’s theme by placing the Virgin Mary at the center, beckoning the faithful to follow her example of love and selflessness, Sonski said. He said more than 40 people are depicted in the carving, including Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II.

Sonski said he expects the major part of the scaffolding, which somewhat obscures viewing of the carving, to be removed from the church by the end of May. Minor filling work will need to be done to complete the installation after the final piece is set in place on May 3.

From design to installation, it has taken seven years to create the sculpture. Much of the work has been documented in its various stages by Journey Films of Alexandria, Va., which is preparing a PBS documentary about the work of art.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator