Thursday, October 26, 2023

Visiting the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmittsburg

The golden statue of Mary, right outside the new visitors' center.

In 2017, I visited a beautiful landmark in Maryland I that I passed by for so many years. Almost every time I traveled through the area, I would marvel at the beautiful golden statue of the Virgin Mary gazing down from her perch from high atop a hill. For years, I wondered what lay beyond that hill, but never took the time to allay my curiosity. That is, until I decided that it was neigh time to discover the story behind the towering, gilded statue and whatever else might greet me at the top.

A cemetery along the road to the Shrine.

At the end of a winding road, I was rewarded with an up-close-and-personal view of the Blessed Mother and the breathtakingly serene retreat known as the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes located behind the statue.

A New Visitors Center

Only recently did I return to share the experience with my mother. It turns out that the fall weather was perfect to walk around, absorb the peacefulness and take in all the statuary, only something was different this time: The National Visitors Center. It turns out that we planned our trip a few months after the new facility was opened.

Grotto Director Bill Tronolone said that more than 893 families contributed more than $3.2 million to build the 4,000 square-foot facility.

Approximately 200,000 pilgrims visit the area each year and all religions are welcome at the Catholic Shrine, which serves as a quiet respite from the daily world--a place of worship, contemplation, prayer and devotion.

The History of the Grotto

This reads "Our mother of sorrows, pray for us.

The Grotto was created by a group of Catholics, who, in search of religious freedom, left St. Mary’s, Maryland in 1728 and settled in Emmitsburg and named the valley “St. Joseph’s Valley,” nestled in the haven of a place they named “St. Mary’s Mount.” Years later, a refugee from France by the name of John DuBois settled in the area and built St. Mary’s on the Hill church in 1807, the home of the current Grotto parking lot. A year later, he built St. Mary’s College located below the Grotto.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals is shown with a bird and a dog.

Throughout the years, the Grotto was tended by several stewards of note including St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity, and the Rev. Simon Brute, who later became the first bishop of Vincennes, Ind.

Saint Sharbel

In the years that followed, collegians and seminarians of Mount St. Mary’s College continued the work of beautifying the Grotto and in 1965, Cardinal Shehan, archbishop of Baltimore, proclaimed it a public oratory. Monsignor Hugh Phillips was appointed chaplain and became known as the “restorer of the Grotto.”

Pope John Paul II

Phillips served Mount St. Mary’s in various capacities until he passed in 2004. He was president of the college, librarian and director and chaplain at the Grotto—which was his passion. “He is an important part of the fabric of the Grotto history. He served the Grotto and Mount St. Mary’s and enjoyed being with the visiting pilgrims,” said Brian Baldini, who was a graduate assistant at the Grotto when we first spoke in 2017.

The Grotto Today
The crucifixion of Christ

When visiting the Grotto, plan on spending at least 45 minutes on the property to view the gardens and shrines of St. Jude, the Virgin of the Poor, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Transfiguration of Jesus, to name just a few.

Take time to relax on the benches which are scattered throughout the area for visitors to reflect in silent contemplation and prayer.

And Mary pondered all these things in her heart. Luke 2:19

Onsite chapels beckon worshippers. “Our small one known as the Corpus Christi chapel contains a few pews and the Eucharist so people can come and pray,” said Baldini. The main chapel, called St. Mary’s Chapel on the Hill, also known as The Glass Chapel, was built in 1976 for visitors to celebrate mass while protected from the elements.

The Corpus Christie Chapel

The cave, which is the oldest part of the Grotto, features the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Beneath an overhang are a series of candles that visitors can light for loved ones. Wooden boxes hold monetary donations and many take the time to scratch prayers on the papers provided before lovingly folding them and inserting them in a separate wooden box. According to Baldini, prayers are collected often. “We get hundreds of thousands of them per year, if not more. People even send them in online. Those intentions are placed at the altar and prayed for at a weekly mass,” he said.

The Cave at the Grotto where visitors can light candles for loved ones.

Grotto water is also very popular and people bring containers to fill and take home with them. “It is water that’s been running down the mountain since Rev. John DuBois came here and it’s never stopped. It attracts many visitors,” said Baldini. The Mount St. Mary’s website remarks on the popularity of the Grotto water as well. “Many believe that its natural properties are cleansing and healthy for the body and soul; others believe it can heal. Although there are no documented miracles, many have reported favors and graces from drinking the Grotto spring water,” it reads.

Visitors can partake in the spring waters that some believe have healing properties.

Although the Grotto is located on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s College, it’s funded entirely through outside donations, benefactors and through other means like “naming opportunities” where loved ones are recognized and remembered on walkway pavers, plaques or benches.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus--The Holy Family.

So next time you’re driving through the Emmittsburg area, don’t just pass by the statue of the Blessed Mother. Drive to the top of the hill and take time to appreciate the divine beauty, history and reverential inspiration behind those who created and tend to this special place.

A beautiful overlook greets visitors.

If you go:

National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

16300 Old Emmitsburg Road

Emmitsburg, Maryland

Noon mass is held every Sunday, including Easter