Heaven’s Bright Queen – Antiquity of Shrines

Article

We are assured by the Saints and taught by the experience of ages that Our Blessed Lady does not content herself with answering our petitions, but, of her own accord, assists her children and protects them from the dangers that threaten their souls. She has the solicitude of a mother, and with a mother’s foresight she sees and provides for her children’s needs. And this spontaneous zeal of Our Blessed Mother is exercised, not only in behalf of individual souls, but also in behalf of the Church at large. Her union with her Divine Son is so intimate that she cannot but be filled with that zeal for God’s glory which is ever consuming His Sacred Heart. Hence the solicitude that ever prompts her to guard and protect the Church of God, to apply a remedy to the evils that spring up within its bosom, and to multiply opportunities of sanctification for its children.

Such is the ordinary and habitual care which Mary takes of the Church of Christ. But there are times and places in which her provident care and motherly kindness are bestowed with lavish hand. There are spots on the earth on which she has set the seal of her mother’s love, and which henceforth abound in wonderful manifestations of the power of God. These are the Shrines and sanctuaries of Our Lady, to which such vast multitudes of the faithful have flocked to seek relief for soul and body, and which have played so important a part in the sanctification and perpetuation of God’s Church.

One of the most striking facts connected with the Shrines of Our Lady is their almost incredible number. Those of our readers who have heard of only a few of the Shrines of the present day, such as La Salette, Lourdes, or Peleroisin will be surprised to learn that these Shrines are but a small fraction of the entire number existing even at the present day, and a still smaller fraction of the number existing in all ages from the beginning of the Church. France alone counts its sanctuaries of Our Lady, old and new, almost by the score, and some of these, it is said, date from Apostolic times. Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain all have had their famous Shrines of Our Lady. England, too, once had its hallowed spots where Our Blessed Lady rewarded the faith and devotion of her English children by the favor of her visible presence, and by an all but visible outpouring of her mother’s love. Many of these sanctuaries of Our Lady owe their origin to Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, in which she commanded a chapel or place of pilgrimage to be reared in her honor, or in which she complained to some favored one of her children of the crimes and abuses that she wished to remove, or promised her protection to those who would honor her in ways which she herself indicated.

Another remarkable circumstance connected with the origin of these sanctuaries is the fact that, frequently, nothing in the outward and visible course of events led up to the miraculous occurrences in which they had their rise. Suddenly and unexpectedly would Our Lady appear to some favored one, or cause some prodigy to be wrought which was to convert some unknown corner of the earth into a famous Shrine of the Queen of Heaven. Not infrequently has she thus appeared to persons who were not thinking of her, and still less looking for any extraordinary favor at her hands, nay, sometimes, to persons who would seem to have no particular devotion to her and were ignorant of all but the barest rudiments of religion.

This circumstance has characterized the Apparitions of Our Lady in all times, in the earliest ages as well as in our own. We see it, among scores of other cases, in the origin of the ancient Shrine of Our Lady of Boulogne, in France. The people of the town suddenly beheld a strange ship, without sailors or oarage, wafted to their shores and bringing them a miraculous image of Our Lady which was to be the instrument of wonderful graces for many a century. And so it has been down to our own age. At La Salette the wonderful Apparition in which the Shrine had its origin was vouchsafed to two poor and ignorant children whose thoughts at the moment were occupied with the herd they were tending on the mountain side. And so it was at Lourdes, where a simple child was, without any warning, made the instrument for founding another great Shrine of Our Lady whose fame is known the world over. What does this circumstance, which is so universal in such Apparitions, prove, if not that the graces that have flowed from these sanctuaries of Our Lady are purely the outpouring of Mary’s unsolicited bounty, and the result of her constant and unremitting solicitude for the souls of her children.

There is still another circumstance in these apparitions which arrests our attention, one in which Mary copies, so to speak, the ways of God himself. Nearly all of these extraordinary favors have been granted to persons of the most obscure condition in life. It has been said that God chooses the weak things of this world to confound the strong and the little thing’s to confound the great. And so has it been with Mary. Sanctuaries that have won world-wide fame by the miracles wrought in them have been founded through the instrumentality of the poor and simple and ignorant. And yet what else might we expect from her who first uttered those words of the Magnificat: “He hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaid. . . . He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. . . . He hath put down the powerful from their seat and raised up the lowly.” A deep lesson is this to those who expect divine favors before humbling them selves under the hand of God, and acknowledging, not only with their lips, but still more by their deeds, that whatever gifts they may possess, these are as nothing in the sight of God, who gave them and can take them away.

The immense number of our Lady’s Shrines, and the circumstances under which she herself founded them, illustrate in their own way the position of our Blessed Mother in the general plan of the redemption and sanctification of the world. Everywhere we find Mary most closely associated with Jesus in this work; everywhere we find her sharing, so far as a mere creature can share, in the office and prerogatives of her Divine Son. Such was the case during her lifetime on earth; such is the case in her glorious life in Heaven; such, too, is the case in the life which still, in a manner, she leads with her children on earth. Just as her Divine Son finds it His delight to dwell among the children of men, living as He does in thousands of tabernacles whence He feeds the multitudes of the faithful with the Bread of Life, so, too, does Mary find pleasure in abiding among her children in those Shrines where she gives them such extraordinary marks of her love and her power, and her zeal for their eternal welfare.

The Church considers no honor that can be given to any pure creature, too great for the Blessed Virgin; but at the same time, being aware that there is an infinite distance be tween her and God, she is far from offering sacrifice to her, or paying her any worship that belongs to God alone. We may also state that whatever she bestows on the Mother, she refers to the glory of the Son as the chief motive and end of all the devotions held in her honor.

Asia claims the honor of having first set up oratories and chapels under the invocation of Mary. The oldest of these sanctuaries was that of Our Lady of Tortosa, on the coast of Phoenicia, which, according to Oriental tradition, was founded by Saint Peter himself.

Tradition clearly enunciates that her form was depicted upon one of the pillars of the beautiful church of Lydda, which her adopted son had dedicated to her. We are informed likewise by Hegesippus that Saint Luke presented to the Cathedral of Antioch a portrait of the Blessed Virgin painted by himself. This picture, to which it was confidently asserted that the Mother of God had attached many graces, became so famous that in after days the Empress Pulcheria transferred it to Constantinople, where she built a magnificent church for its reception. According to Eusebius, Edessa had also in the first century its church of Our Lady, which contained a miraculous image of her. Egypt boasts of having had about the same time its church of Our Lady of Alexandria, and the Spanish Saragossa, then called Caesar Augusta, prides herself on hav ing possessed then also its celebrated sanctuary of Our Lady del Pilar.

Ephesus, where the memory of the Blessed Virgin was still fresh, soon built in honor of Mary a superb cathedral, in which a famous council was held in the fifth century, establishing her beautiful title of Mother of God.

This example was soon followed from one end to the other of that immense Roman Province. Phrygia, Christianized, forgot her Trojan deities whom Homer chanted; Cappadocia effaced from her memory the thought of feeding the sacred fires that the sun-adoring Persians had enkindled beside the elegant temples of the deities of Greece; and the caverns which formerly had lent their gloomy recesses to the bloody mysteries of Mithra, became during the subsequent religious persecutions, which nowhere raged with greater fury than among the Greek colonies, places of refuge for the Christians and their proscribed God. At last the gods of Greece, those indigenous deities sprung from the bright foam of the Aegean sea, born beneath the whispering palm trees of the Cyclades, or cradled in the shade of the woods which crown the lofty mountains of Crete, were abandoned for the God who died on Cal vary, and also for the Virgin of Nazareth. So utterly for gotten were those pagan deities, that Pliny the Younger, on his arrival in Bithynia, of which he had just been appointed governor, wrote to Trajan that Christianity had invaded not only the cities, but the country, so that he had found the temples of the gods of the empire forsaken.

MLA Citation

  • William J Walsh. “Antiquity of Shrines”. The Apparitions and Shrines of Heaven’s Bright Queen, 1905. CatholicSaints.Info. 9 July 2014. Web. 24 October 2017. <>