The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, popularly known as “The Grotto,” is a Catholic shrine and 62-acre botanical garden in Portland, Oregon. It features tranquil paths, shrines with carvings and statuary, and is a home of the Servite Friars (Friar Servants of Mary), a Catholic religious order.
Father Ambrose Mayer, a member of the Servite order, founded The Grotto. He purchased land from the Union Pacific Railroad company in 1923 to use as the site for a natural cathedral. It had previously been a quarry, and construction began to transform it into an outdoor religious shrine to the Virgin Mary. By May of 1924, a cave had been carved out of the rock for a shrine, and an altar and statuary placed inside. A dedication mass was held for its new use as the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, and The Grotto continued to grow, adding chapels, statuary, and garden features over the years. It was designated as a National Sanctuary in 1983.
The gardens at The Grotto are divided into Lower and Upper areas. The lower area is open free to the public. It includes the grotto cave carved into the 110-foot basalt rock cliff with an altar and a marble Pieta statue of Mary and Jesus inside. One of the two masses at the Sanctuary is celebrated there daily if the weather permits. A stone chapel dedicated to Mary is also located in the lower level, built in 1955, with seating for 600 people and displays of marble statues inside. Also in the lower gardens is a lush trail with the Stations of the Cross in bronze along it. The visitor complex and gift shop are also there.
The upper gardens require a small admission fee, but there is a lot to see there. The bulk of the botanical gardens lay up top, with hundreds of statues decorating the grounds. At the top of the cliff stands the meditation chapel, built of polished granite and glass into the rocky cliff face with striking views of the valley below. A short walk away, the Peace Garden meanders around through deliberately meditative areas of light and shadow towards a labyrinth and other trails. St. Anne’s Chapel, built of brick in 1934, houses some beautiful paintings, and along the upper trails, there is a rose garden and various shrines to visit as well. Fringed with trees, rhododendrons, and many other flowering plants, these paths make for a beautiful and contemplative stroll. In December, The Grotto has a Christmas Festival of Lights that draws 60,000 people each year, with candlelit trails, nightly concerts, and caroling. The resident monks live at the monastery here year-round as well,
Whether you’re interested in the history of this national sanctuary, fascinated by sculpture, love a good garden stroll, or are in need of some spiritual uplifting, The Grotto is a wondrous and beautiful place to visit. Awash with the majesties of nature as well as places for quiet contemplation, there is something at The Grotto for everyone.
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