In the midst of Orlando, land of Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse, there’s a quiet place to raise your heart and mind to God. Built to serve tourists and pilgrims, a beautiful shrine on Vineland Avenue, in between shopping malls and hotels, celebrates Mary, Mother of God, with works of art and the natural beauty of Florida. The Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady, Queen of the Universe offers Mass and Confession every day of the week, as well as weekly devotions. Built in the mid-1980s, the Shrine has a large 2000 person main church, an indoor chapel, outdoor chapel, fountains, gift shop, art museum, and a lush Rosary Garden dedicated to Saint John Paul II. The Shrine website has a lot of information about the history and art of the Shrine, as well as the liturgical schedule. It is not a monument but a thriving outreach to pilgrims of any faith, bringing people to Jesus through Mary.
Over the years, I’ve visited the Shrine often, celebrating Christmas and Easter there on occasion. My most recent pilgrimage was during the Christmas season so several of the photos I’ve posted here contain seasonal decorations.
My favorite spot is the Universe Chapel with its luminous blue stained glass windows. I imagine that I’ve entered an underwater reef with the rippling effect of the patterns in the glass and the enveloping calm and peace that pervades this spot in particular. The artist based the windows on photographs of stars in the night sky. To me, they evoke deep still water reflecting the stars.
An outdoor chapel with an 80-foot bell tower contains the Mother and Child sculpture by artist Jerzy Kenar. This sculpture depicts an endearing interaction between a child handing her mom a bouquet of flowers. You may find it, as I did, a beautiful encouragement to reflect upon how Mary truly is given to us by Jesus, on the cross, to be our mother. She clearly is delighted with her child and the simple love behind the small gift of flowers. We can all be like that child in trusting Mary to bring us to Jesus and in tenderly seeking to please her with our small deeds of love and prayers that she multiplies with her own in offering them to God.
A series of Rosary windows illustrate the Sorrowful, Joyful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary with depictions of the Scripture passages on which this traditional Marian prayer is based. Other “Magnificat” window illustrate passages of the Gospel.
A dramatic holy water font designed by the Shrine’s artist, Jerzy Kenar, welcomes the visitor. Passing through the vestibule to the Main Church, visitors see a giant statue of the crucified Christ suspended in air in front of a shimmering glass cross.
Outside, the sounds of running water and a pedestrian path over the water from the parking lot feels like you are entering the moat of a castle. The entrance to the path is guarded by a statute of St. Michael the Archangel. As I posted my photo, I realized the angle makes it appear that St. Michael has blasted and wilted not only the Devil under his feet, but also some hapless poinsettias. I note that with affection, and recognition of God’s often surprising sense of humor, certainly not with any disrespect to St. Michael, one of my favorite intercessors! This most powerful of the angels defeats Satan, the fallen angel who rejected God and seeks to lure us away from Him. If you do not know the St. Michael prayer, I recommend it for any struggle you may be undergoing or to offer it for others.
May you find the Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, a rich source of meditation and inspiration for prayer drawing you closer to the God who made you and loves you!
8300 Vineland Avenue, Orlando, Fl 32821;