By Lucinda Herrick
If you love to travel, as my husband and I do, one of the things you might want to add to your sight-seeing list is a visit to Catholic shrines. We have experienced many sacred places through mini pilgrimages during our travels in the US and Europe; and we have always come away with a sense of peace and blessing. But what exactly is a shrine?
For Catholics, a shrine is a place set aside to honor a specific saint or an event in the life of Christ. These shrines come in all sizes and locations. They may be large cathedrals, small chapels, or a niche in a wall. They may be ornate and elaborate, or simple and humble. They may be located at a burial site of a saint, at the scene of a miracle, or constructed to contain relics such as bone, cloth, etc., that are venerated because of association with a saint or martyr. Occasionally, shrines make no claim to a Biblical event or religious saint, but still hold a powerful capacity to connect visitors to the power of the Divine *. Trips to visit shrines are called pilgrimages and were begun not long after Christ’s resurrection; however, we find the first written description of a pilgrimage made by Origen in the third century. By the 4th Century, pilgrimages were encouraged by church fathers, including St. Jerome. Inspired by this, emperor Constantine sent his mother St. Helena on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of Biblical sites, including the site of the Crucifixion. Her pilgrimage resulted in the founding of many of the world’s most sacred churches and shrines.
Though many famous shrines are found worldwide, thankfully we do not have to travel thousands of miles to visit a sacred place. Sixty miles south of Tucson sits the shrine of Our Lady of the Sierras. Inspired by a trip to Medjugorje, an Illinois couple (Gerald and Patricia Chouinard) felt led to construct a 70-foot-high glass, steel and concrete cross on their property outside of Hereford, Arizona. The plans included a statue of the Virgin Mary to be placed at the foot of the cross. For several years the couple faced opposition from neighbors and outside groups, but eventually a 75-foot-high Benedictine style cross and a small chapel were constructed on the site. Today a 31-foot-high statue of the Virgin Mary stands to the right of the large cross. In 2002 the Stations of the Cross were completed, and in 2004 a 10-foot-high Angel of Revelation was installed as well as a second angel above Station #12. 2004 also saw the completion of a small grotto to Our Lady of Guadalupe and in 2005 a marble angel “Guardian of the Children” was placed near the north chapel entrance. A prayer house, named “Mary’s Knoll,” is open to the public and has become a place of serenity and prayer for visitors.
Shrines are often places of miracles, both past and present. At Our Lady of the Sierras one such miracle occurred during construction. The original design for the chapel called for stucco walls; however, a dry wash nearby revealed river rocks that had washed down from the Huachuca Mountains and were smoothed by wind and water. It was determined that there were enough of these rocks to do one side of the chapel. Incredibly, the wash continued to yield enough river rocks to construct the entire chapel, similar to the scripture account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. **
Our Lady of the Sierras welcomes all visitors and offers a variety of ways to experience Christ’s peace in the serenity of the Sonoran Desert. The chapel is open daily with Mass on Sundays. Mary’s Knoll offers a place for contemplation 5 days a week. The Stations of the Cross and Grotto paths provide areas for meditation and spiritual reflection. St. Joseph house is located at the entrance to the Shrine and is available to priest, clergy and members of Religious Orders for retreat or sabbatical. We hope you get a chance to explore this lovely shrine of Arizona.