May is Mary’s month, during which Catholics around the world honor our Heavenly Mother with extra vigor and joy. A great way to take advantage of both the nice weather and our full hearts is to make a pilgrimage to one or more of the many shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An exhaustive list of the shrines dedicated to Mary would require many pages. Here is a list of my favorites, some of which might be in your neck of the woods and others far away in foreign lands. No matter where they are, they testify to our love for and gratitude to the young woman whose “yes” changed the course of history and showed us what it really means to love.
SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY OF FATIMA
It’s May 2017, and Fatima, Portugal, is the place to be! Here, in this once-sleepy little village —100 years ago — the Mother of God met three young shepherds and asked them to pray for peace and the conversion of hearts and make reparation for the sins of the world.
It was May 13, 1917, when 10-year-old Lucia Santos and her cousins, Francisco (8) and Jacinta Marto (7) first met the “beautiful lady” at the Cova da Iria, a field of grass and olive and holm oak trees, where the children grazed their sheep. She didn’t tell them who she was at first, but she asked them to return to the Cova every month on the 13th for the next five months. They did, and the world has never been the same.
Today, Fatima is a pilgrimage town, where prayers and Masses rise to heaven 24/7, giving it the nickname “Altar of the World.” The main attraction is the Cova, now covered with asphalt, with a basilica at either end and a small chapel (the capelinha) in the middle of the esplanade, built atop the site where Mary met the three shepherds.
Pilgrims can walk the Via Sacra from the shepherds’ hometown of Aljustrel to Fatima, praying the Stations of the Cross along the way and stopping by the apparition sites of Valinhos (where they met Mary that August), and the Loca do Cabeco (where they met the Guardian Angel of Portugal in 1916). Some of the most amazing experiences in Fatima include praying the candlelight Rosary procession at night and waving a white handkerchief adeus (goodbye) as the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima is processed back to the capelinha.
While you’re in Portugal … visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro, a three-hour drive north of Fatima. This stunning shrine was visited by St. John Paul II and is a beautiful place to give Our Blessed Mother some well-deserved love.
BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION
If we’re talking great places to honor the Virgin Mary, the Basilica of the Annunciation is where the Word became flesh.
Let that sink in.
You can actually see where the angel Gabriel said those words we pray every day: “Hail Mary, full of grace.” It makes me shiver just thinking about it. Nazareth is where Mary lived with her parents — Sts. Anna and Joachim — as a young girl. It’s also where she met and married St. Joseph and where the Holy Family lived when they returned from Egypt. A lot happened in Nazareth, and it’s an amazing place to visit.
This basilica is like a lighthouse in the midst of a stormy sea. In fact, its dome was built to resemble a lighthouse for Mary, Star of the Sea. Below the basilica are the ruins of a first-century cave-home like the one in which the Holy Family lived. The courtyard of the basilica has beautiful images of the Blessed Virgin Mary created in countries around the globe, and those images continue inside the magnificent church.
While you’re in the Holy Land … visit the Milk Grotto, in Bethlehem, not far from the Church of the Nativity. It’s believed that the Virgin Mary stayed here to breastfeed her newborn Son. One day, a drop of her milk fell to the cave’s red sandstone floors, and miraculously, the walls of the cave turned white. You can still see the striations today. Millions of miracles have come to those pilgrims who bought and drank scrapings of that white sandstone while praying for Mary’s intercession. Some even believe this cave is where the Magi visited the Holy Family before they fled to Egypt.
CHAPEL OF OUR LADY OF THE MIRACULOUS MEDAL
Wandering through the energetic streets of Paris’ 7th arrondissement, you’d never guess that among the posh and pricey shops is a small chapel where the Virgin Mary once met a young religious novice and where she designed one of the most beautiful and widespread medals in the history of the Catholic Church — the Miraculous Medal. Catherine Labouré was only 24 when the Virgin Mary gave her a mission in the chapel of the Daughters of Charity: Create the medal that would remind its wearers to ask Mary for some of the many graces that her Son allowed her to give. Since then the little medal she created was given the name “miraculous,” and it has been living up to its name ever since.
Inside of this beautiful chapel, pilgrims can see the chair on which the Blessed Virgin Mary sat while she spoke with St. Catherine, as well as the incorrupt bodies of St. Catherine and St. Louise de Marillac, co-founder (along with St. Vincent de Paul) of the Daughters of Charity.
While you’re in France … visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous. The miraculous healing waters of Lourdes have made it the place to go if you are sick, but it’s a beautiful place to go even if you’re physically healthy. We can all use spiritual healing!
MONASTERY OF SANTA MARIA DE MONTSERRAT
near Barcelona, Spain
People have been climbing high places to get closer to God for ages. Moses, Elijah, and even Jesus took three of his disciples up a mountain to share his future glory with them. Built 1,200 meters up the jagged mountain of Montserrat, the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat is one of these high, holy places, and it’s glorious. There is much to see here, so it’s a great day trip from Barcelona.
Our Lady of Montserrat, lovingly known as La Morenita (“Little Brown One”), is patron saint of Catalonia and beloved by its inhabitants. Pilgrims to Montserrat venerate a small 12th-century Romanesque statue of a seated Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus in her lap. The monastery is still active, with about 100 monks, and the boys’ choir is famous around the world. Buy some of their CDs in the gift shop and spend the day enjoying the natural and inspired beauty of the site.
While you’re in Spain … visit the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pilar in Zaragoza, the first church ever dedicated to Mary, built atop the site where the first apparition of Mary to St. James the Apostle took place. This shrine has also been visited by Sts. John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, Ignatius of Loyola, Josemaría Escrivá, and more. Aside from being a historical juggernaut, the cathedral is gorgeous.
BASILICA OF THE NATIONAL SHRINE OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
We are blessed to have a few glorious shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary in our own country, but this shrine, located in our nation’s capital, is one of my favorites because it honors Mary under many of her titles and apparitions. Every nook and cranny of this shrine has something beautiful that will remind you of God’s glory and the many gifts he has given us — starting with his Blessed Mother and going down the centuries to some of the saints who were so devoted to her.
One of the things I love the most about this shrine is that it’s always growing and improving—the way we all should be! While I think it’s pretty nearly perfect as it is, every new chapel or mosaic simply makes it better, and that makes it a great place to visit again and again.
While you’re home … you may be able to travel to: Pennsylvania and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa or the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal; Wisconsin and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill; New Jersey and the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima; Baltimore and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Florida and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe; Illinois and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows; Oregon and The Grotto (dedicated to Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother); or Ohio and the Basilica and National Shrine Our Lady of Consolation.
Find the Marian shrine closest to you and make your way there during this beautiful month! You’ll be glad you did!