The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe rises above the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin, on a hill. A small paved road climbs the hill from the entrance and gift shop. As you walk, this meditation trail takes you to shrines and a Votive Candle Chapel, the Shrine Church, and a Memorial to the Unborn. Then, it splits into a Rosary Walk and a Stations of the Cross path that circle back to the trail.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
In 1531, Mary appeared to the native Saint Juan Diego as a young Aztec maiden and queen on Tepeyac Hill near what is now Mexico City. What followed ignited the sudden and widespread conversion of millions of indigenous Mexicans. Over a few days, Mary spoke to Saint Juan Diego several times. When he told the local bishop that Mary wanted a church built, the bishop asked for a sign. Therefore, Mary instructed Saint Juan Diego to gather Castilian roses that miraculously bloomed on the hillside where she appeared and take them to the Bishop. Juan Diego filled up his tilma (cloak) with the roses and went back to the Bishop. When he opened the tilma before the Bishop, the roses spilled out and a portrait of Mary was revealed on the inside of the tilma.
The original tilma and its portrait remain today for pilgrims to visit in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. Despite the passage of time, the tilma’s colors remain bright and the cactus fiber material has not decayed. Photographic analysis shows reflected within Mary’s eyes the images of the Bishop and others that witnessed the tilma miracle. In addition, the “paint” on the tilma mysteriously penetrated the cloth in a manner that cannot be explained or replicated. Finally, the Aztec symbolism of the tilma led many who understood it to convert.
There are many churches throughout the world dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, but the Wisconsin Shrine stands out in its beauty. I arrived en route to the Airstream factory in Ohio with a few hours to visit before stopping for the night. Leaving Alvie the Airstream in the parking lot, I started off at a brisk pace up the hill. I hoped to attend Mass, but doubted I’d make it up the winding trail in time. Thankfully, a passing golf cart stopped as I waved. The masked couple inside graciously allowed me to hop on. We flew up the hill to the Shrine Church just in time for Mass.
The Shrine Church
Traditional architecture and art characterize the Shrine Church. A white marble altar rail and ornate gate border the sanctuary. Red marble pillars support an ornate baldocino or “little roof” above the altar. A silver framed portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the curved wall behind the altar draws the pilgrim’s attention.
Beneath the ceiling, architectural molding contains the Hail Mary prayer in Latin. Along the sides of the Shrine Church, above the side chapels and below the windows, one finds different names of Mary inscribed in Latin. Traditional paintings portray saints honored at the Shrine and icons draw hearts and minds to reflection.
At the rear of the church, a beautiful organ’s pipes form a sculpture incorporated with the balcony. Under the balcony, the words that Our Lady spoke to comfort St. Juan Diego span the back of the Shrine Church written in Spanish. Especially during stressful times, this prayer reminds us of Mary’s motherly love and protection: “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
As you explore the Shrine Church, you may enjoy finding small details within the decorative building. For instance, garlands of carved roses adorned with symbols of the faith loop above the side chapels. The ceiling as one enters is a work of art in itself. Look for the cherubs that frequent all areas of the church.
Outside the Shrine Church
Outside the entrance, a statue portrays the awestruck bishop kneeling before Saint Juan Diego as the saint opens his tilma revealing roses and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Nearby, a friary and gardens beckon the pilgrim. Flowers abound throughout the entire Shrine grounds.
Close to the Shrine Church, the Memorial to the Unborn welcomes you with a large statute of Mary as a native woman holding unborn children in her lap. My tiny home on wheels contains a small replica of this Mother of the Unborn statue, a souvenir of a past visit to the Shrine. Flanked by the semicircular stone memorial, a bronze angel watches over children.
Past the Memorial, visitors can explore a Rosary walk and Stations of the Cross. Delft blue and white tiles illustrate the mysteries of the Rosary, calling pilgrims to pray this devotion on the trail. Similarly, the Stations of the Cross in stone attract both with their beauty and their reflection of the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Votive Candle Chapel
Along the way back down the hill, I stopped at the Mother of Good Counsel Votive Candle Chapel. This luminous chapel contains beautiful stained glass windows depicting Mary. In its center, a large pyramid of blue votive glass candleholders reflects the outside light, as it glows with candles lit at the request of pilgrims. The gentle blue light colors a statue of Our Lady of Fatima whose lifelike eyes appear to gaze with love upon the pilgrim. Moreover, the hands and feet of this statue are executed in remarkable detail.
After the chapel, I prayed at roadside shrines to Saint Kateri Tekawitha and Saint Joseph the Workman. In particular, the depiction of Jesus as a boy learning the carpenter’s trade from Saint Joseph touched me. Additional shrines are in the works.
Refreshed spiritually, I sought physical refreshment in the cool air conditioning of the restaurant and gift shop, stopping for some water and a snack. I easily could have spent more time on the Shrine grounds. If you visit, pace yourself and allow a full day. It is well worth your time.
Years ago, a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe played a key role in helping me discern whether I was called to marriage with the man I was dating. Instead, I realized that God had other plans. He wanted me to focus first on my own children and my work for a pro-life medical practice named Tepeyac in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. After raising my children and serving many years at Tepeyac, I followed God’s new call to my current life on the road. Coming full circle back to the Shrine now renews the sense of mission I experienced there and my gratitude for being able to follow Him. May you discern your own purpose in the stillness of this prayerful Shrine.
The Shrine is located at 5250 Justin Road, La Crosse, WI 54601 and may be reached at 877.799. 4059 or at www.guadalupeshrine.org. If you liked this article, please subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter. You’ll receive updates on new posts plus occasional giveaways.
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