Shrines of North America
by Zsolt Aradi
The discovery of this country is closely connected with Mary. Columbus christened his flagship Santa Maria, and this Santa Maria under the protection of the Holy Virgin connected the New World forever with the Old. Columbus himself died very humbly in the robes of the third order of St. Francis, and wanted to be buried in a chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in the valley known as Conception in Haiti. Spain of that era stood under the protection of Our Lady of the Pillar in Saragossa. It was the custom of sailors, while on the high seas, to sing the "Salve Regina" every evening. All the Spanish explorers who penetrated this country from the South and the East, carried this profound veneration of the Holy Virgin with them. The shrines along the Santa Fe Trail, in Texas and in California, few of which have survived, bear proof of this veneration.
The French who came from the North likewise brought the veneration from their homeland. In 1638 King Louis XIII consecrated France officially to the Holy Virgin. The explorers, the priests, among them the great Father Marquette of the Society of Jesus, came through the St. Lawrence River. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana were explored by these French priests and laymen, all without exception dedicated to the Madonna. Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Nebraska, first discovered by the Spanish, were thoroughly re-explored by these French. They discovered the Mississippi system, the artery of American geography. Champlain, Nicolet, Joliet, and Mercier were great peacemakers and lovers of the Indian who acted under the guidance of Mary.
"She made her entry with the English as she made with the French," writes Daniel Sargent in Our Land and Our Lady. There was one difference. These first Catholics left a land where Catholicism was proscribed, where Walsingham, one of the great shrines to Mary, lay in ruins. These outlaw Catholics were loaded on a ship named the Delight indirectly after Our Lady. They set sail in 1582 during the reign of Charles II but perished when their ship sank on the shores of Nova Scotia. In 1634, ancestors of the Maryland Catholics headed by Lord Baltimore arrived on the Ark and the Dove and anchored in a bay that the Spanish in 1534 christened the Bay of the Mother of God. The English settlers landed on the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25. The name Maryland, writes Sargant, recalls Our Lady, but officially, it was said that the new country had been named after Henrietta Maria, Queen of England. So, at this time, Our Lady entered the New World.
At the end of the nineteenth century the great immigrations flooded the territory of the United States. In the course of a century around forty million arrived, a migration unparalleled in world history. The different national groups brought with them their own customs, which played a part in their religious life. They put up their churches and shrines with the same faith as the first Spanish, French and English settlers. Francis Beauchesne Thornton writes in his Catholic Shrines in the United States and Canada, "The shrines brought a message of faith and love to the new land. Faith can never be the exclusive privilege of the mind or it will not long be the faith that moved mountains… Along with the log houses of the frontier, were built the log churches… sometimes a lovely grove reminded them of a shrine to Mary, or some other saint of the homeland. So the grove was set aside, an oratory or a chapel inevitably came into being, and the devotion began . . . they wanted God in their midst; he was the Father to whom they could tell their sorrows. And Mary was the Mother of Mothers . . . it was in this family spirit that the shrines of Canada and the United States came into being and grew into the beauty they are today."
Aside from the original American and Canadian shrines dedicated to Our Lady, almost each great world shrine has its replica in the territory of the United States. The few selected for this book have been singled out not merely according to their importance, but because each is an interesting example of the American veneration of Our Lady in the vast and varied complex of shrines throughout the world.
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