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About the Series


Americans are from everywhere and they have brought their faiths and their building traditions to their new home. Except for Native Americans, the entire population consists of immigrants – by choice or by force -  and their descendants. A SACRED PIECE OF HOME: WASHINGTON D.C., is a documentary series of four, half-hour films, intended for public broadcast. It will bring to viewers a visual feast of distinctive architecture in styles from all over the world that have found a home in the Washington area, making the capital region a Noah’s Ark of sacred architecture. Viewers will discover iconic places of worship both monumental and intimate, and learn about the communities that envisioned, built and commissioned them over the last two and a half centuries. These wonderful edifices are an important part of America’s cultural and architectural heritage.

The pens at Ellis Island, Registry Room (or Great Hall)._edited.jpg

Freedom of Religion:

War, famine, persecution and political turmoil, as well as the quest for a better life, have driven many people to America over time. The Constitution of the United States has consistently promoted freedom of religion. A SACRED PIECE OF HOME will showcase that treasured freedom in tangible form as churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are all part of Washington D.C.’s religious landscape today.

The series presents immigrant communities in the Washington DC area from diverse religious, ethnic, and national origins, and their sacred architecture. That these communities—from Greece, India, Ireland, Mexico, Vietnam, and a host of elsewhere—can maintain their distinct traditions here is a testimony to America’s greatness. The vibrant national tapestry unites the many in their differences into one.

The Immigrant Experience:

Irish immigrant workers helped build the earliest government buildings in the nation’s capital. A German immigrant dreamed of establishing a “Hamburg” in the area for compatriots. European Jews fled the Holocaust in the mid-20th century and joined Jews in America who had escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Indian professionals began migrating to the US when immigration laws changed in 1965.


We learn about the conditions and experiences that led people to leave their homelands and migrate to America - from the Wars of Religion in 16th century Europe to the Greek struggle for independence, and from World War II to the conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia and Central America. 

Moving to a new country: When people migrate from one country to another, they take with them their languages, cultures, and traditions. Constructing a place of worship is a way of putting down roots in the new home. Sacred spaces are composed of longing and memory, where newcomers can sing hymns in their native tongue and share memories with others who remember their past home. These are places where they are surrounded by familiar images and ceremonies that allow them to be themselves while becoming integrated into the mainstream.

Homeland Prototypes: Often, the immigrant structures are modeled after prototypes in the home country. Churches built by English immigrants are modeled on those back in England. The Greek Orthodox cathedral here emulates the Byzantine Hagia Sophia. The Hindu temple in Lanham, Maryland is inspired by the large temple cities of South India. Artists and craftsmen from their respective regions contribute to the embellishment of these edifices. Materials from the homeland are embedded in them e.g. Jerusalem stone, Greek marble and Turkish tiles.

Preserving the Past, Embracing the Future:  Interviews with clergy and congregants give a sense of the role played by their houses of worship in their lives. These are not just places for prayer. They serve as multipurpose cultural centers. People of all faiths and ethnicities share a need for continuity, a desire to preserve their heritage for themselves and their children. 


The Interviews: Woven into the fabric of the film are the personal stories of people involved in the congregations that have created these edifices: a Korean Pastor, a co-founder of a Hindu temple, a Russian Orthodox Priest, a Jewish businessman dedicated to renovating an iconic synagogue, a member of a mosque Board. These complement the host’s narration as do interviews with architects, historians and authors, who elucidate the topic.


We explore the pre-independence years of the region’s history, when 18th century Georgetown and Alexandria were slave and tobacco ports. The creation of “Federal City” after independence on land largely donated by Catholic Maryland and the simultaneous founding of the first Catholic churches. One was made specifically for the workers brought in from Ireland to build the city. The German church established in today’s Foggy Bottom for the descendants of  the 18th century “Hamburg” settlement. The arrival of German Jewish immigrants and the establishment of the first synagogues in this area. The migration of African Americans from the South after the Civil War led to a Black-majority population, who built a large number of churches.

Church of the Presidents (1816)

Episode 2: A "National" Array


In the early 20th century, two monumental structures are commenced both with “National” in the title: An Episcopal Cathedral and a Catholic basilica which dominated the capital’s religious skyline. Both emulate European prototypes. We travel up Sixteenth Street and see some of the nearly 50 religious structures built on the  6 1/2-mile-street between the White House and the Maryland border. We observe how, over time, a street that almost exclusively had White Protestant churches, now houses Catholic, Black, Latino and Jewish places of worship.


Stained glass cathedral window

Photo by Colin Winterbottom


Worshipers & clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church built by immigrants

Episode 3: Mid-Century changes


In this episode we note the growth of the Jewish population of Washington and the transformation of synagogue architecture. By the middle of the 20th century, the Greek and Russian populations have expanded, leading to large churches in prominent locations. At the same time, the lack of a Muslim house of worship inspires several Muslim countries to collaborate in building the monumental Islamic Center, which is embellished by exquisite craftsmanship from their homelands.



In 1965 immigration laws in America were revised to open the doors to people from non-European countries. Within a few decades, new immigrants had built places of worship in the suburbs. We visit structures built by Hindus and Zoroastrians, by Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Ukrainians, in their distinctive styles. We also learn how members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, migrating from their homeland in Utah, built a magnificent temple on the edge of the nation’s capital.

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Neighboring mosque and Orthodox church on “Highway to Heaven"

Films from other regions of the country will be added as they are developed
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