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Staying in a Chateau in France…a unique experience

Our stay in a Chateau in France:

Like many independent Catholic travelers, we like to experience the local culture of the places we visit.  For some reason, we don’t always seem that keen on B&B’s.  Perhaps it is because we feel less privacy when staying in someone else’s house rather than a hotel. Or maybe it’s because our main goal is to check out various shrines or churches so where we sleep is not that important.  We are not there to relax, which is a shame, but then that’s our purpose in visiting so many places:  to give you an idea of what they are like.

But in this case, when planning a trip to Normandy, we did want some free time to just relax and not constantly be on the go.  So, we decided to try a chateau just to see what it was like. We landed in Paris and  hopped a train (our favorite way to travel in Europe) to Rennes in Normandy, where we picked up our rental car.  From there it was a short drive to the Chateau de Bouceel, our choice for this trip.

Chateau-BouceelAs you can see, the setting was like something out of Downton Abbey (minus the staff & the British accent). The chateau itself was beautifully maintained and definitely had atmosphere.  We were told that for a few months during World War II (the summer of 1940), the chateau was briefly occupied by German army officers.  But they later moved elsewhere as the chateau did not have electricity at that time.

Our host, Count Régis de Roquefeuil, pointed out the front steps where his father, as a member of the French Resistance in World War II, was arrested by the Gestapo.  He was due to be shipped off to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where he would no doubt be executed. However, the rail lines had been bombed, and since by now the Allies had landed on the Normandy beaches, he eventually was freed by the Allies. With all this history, and the beautiful surroundings, staying here was a unique experience.

Chateau de Bouceel book coverOur host had a book of cartoons (in French) detailing his father’s experiences during the war.   His father had dedicated the book as follows:

“To the brave young heroes from the U.S., Canada, England, Australia….who gave their life and without whom my dad wouldn’t have come back, this book wouldn’t exist….I wouldn’t be here to sign it.”

Let’s never forget!

We bought the book and brought it home as a memory of our stay here…..even though we don’t speak much French…you could get the meaning of the cartoons.


Since we had a car, we made day trips to nearby Mont St. Michel, the D-Day Beaches and Pontmain, among other sites.  That was after breakfast at the Chateau, of course……can you get better croissants anywhere other than in France? Definitely not, in our opinion.  These were the melt-in-your mouth, fresh-from-the oven croissants that just don’t seem to exist anywhere else.


People who prefer a chateau or B&B cite advantages to staying in them, such as individually decorated rooms, direct contact with the owners or the chance to mingle with other independent travelers.

Those who prefer hotels cite the advantages of more flexible hours (with a B&B, the doors are often locked after a certain hour in the evening), more anonymity, usually a restaurant on the premises. So I guess it is just a matter of taste.

Certainly, in our case, the chateau fulfilled all our expectations and then some.

You can read more about the history of Chateau de Bouceel here.

How about you? Do you have any experiences you would like to share with everyone?


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What’s it like to travel during a pandemic?

We borrowed this post from Select International Tours….a company with a solid financial history and reputation for outstanding Catholic pilgrimages.

Is it safe to travel? How are airlines and airports ensuring the health of their customers? What are the different state and country requirements for arrival – is there testing or quarantine involved?

These are all questions I recently asked myself (and Google) before I armed myself with many masks and bottles of hand sanitizer and embarked on my first domestic and international trips during the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel of course looks very different right now, and our own health and comfort levels should be carefully considered before booking a trip. However there have been many changes to airline and airport protocols during the pandemic to enhance the health and safety of travelers, some of which will likely be maintained even after COVID-19’s peak has passed. Ultimately my domestic trip from Washington, D.C. to Florida, and my move abroad to Rwanda both went smoothly and allowed me to compare what different airlines, airports, and destinations are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Prior to Travel

Booking flights was a bit more challenging than usual because there are less options due to reduced airline service. The usual flight I take to Florida was temporarily suspended, so I booked a United Airlines flight out of Washington Dulles Airport. We’ve learned this year that things can change very quickly – whether it’s flight schedules or incoming passenger requirements – so it is important to have a plan in place to accommodate these changes. Booking through a travel company like Select International can take the stress out of this process since they work with so many airlines and are always familiar with the most up-to-date policies of each.

I was sure to check baggage requirements far in advance. United Airlines still allowed one carry-on and one personal item, however, I flew Turkish Air to Rwanda and they only allowed a personal item in the cabin to avoid congestion in the plane’s aisle, and so they checked my usual carry-on for free.

I also looked up entry requirements for Florida and Rwanda. Florida had none, but Rwanda, like many popular destinations including Israel/the Holy Land, required a negative COVID-19 test within 3-5 days of departure (as well as an online form to be filled). I’d heard many different stories about testing requirements and the timing of receiving results that it was difficult for me to identify a clinic that could promise the quick turnaround required for travel. I ultimately received a recommended list of clinics from the D.C. Department of Public Health and had to pay out of pocket for an expedited test. This was a very difficult and frustrating pre-departure step that might have been avoided had I booked through a travel company!

At the Airport

Checking In

For my domestic flights, I was grateful to be able to check-in online prior to arrival in order to avoid the crowded check-in/bag-drop area. For my international flight, because Rwanda required certain documents, I had to go to the desk to get my boarding pass and check my bags. Social distancing was observed while waiting in line to check-in, but because the desks are so close together, it got very crowded when I was working with the ticketing agent. I had to show a variety of documents (negative COVID-19 test, completed Government of Rwanda form) to the ticket agent, so it was good that I had printed out everything ahead of time. I would recommend arriving at the airport early because every country has different entry requirements and so the check-in process takes a long time for everyone – I flew through Istanbul to Rwanda, and because Istanbul is a hub, each of my fellow travelers’ end destinations were different and required varied check-in procedures.



Passengers in the check-in line maintained social distance.


I experienced TSA both with and without Precheck and was pleasantly surprised with both. Passengers respected social distancing while waiting in line, although not so much when placing/removing their items from the conveyer belt – but I figured that might be the case! However, Precheck had the large advantage of not having to remove my shoes or electronics, which significantly sped up the whole process and reduced the number of bins I had to touch. If you have TSA Precheck, be sure to let your travel company know so they can indicate that with the airline when they purchase your ticket!

Gates and Lounges

The airports were definitely less crowded than normal, but of course, the gate areas were a bit busy. Many people tried to distance by sitting in gates that didn’t have any scheduled flights – this was easier in the bigger airports and in the evenings when less flights were scheduled. I checked out the Turkish Air lounge in Dulles to see if it was less crowded (I assumed they might be limiting the number of entrants).  The main area of the lounge was actually quite crowded, but thankfully I found a back room that many others hadn’t discovered yet.



Airlines are trying to board as efficiently as possible, which for United meant telling customers to ignore the boarding groups on their boarding passes and to listen for their row to be called. This created confusion because the screens still said the boarding groups, so what resulted was a bunch of people crowded around the boarding door – the exact opposite of what they were aiming for! My international flights seemed a bit more health-conscious: Turkish Air took everyone’s temperature before boarding and gave us all a hygiene kit containing masks, hand sanitizer, and antiseptic wipes (United also gave one antiseptic wipe when boarding). Despite these differences, it’s clear that all airlines are working hard to protect passengers and staff, and this is clearly a very new world that we are all learning to adapt to!



In-flight hygiene kits are a new addition on some airlines.


Flight attendants constantly reminded us to keep our masks on unless we were eating. Passengers on my international flights followed this rule much better than those on my domestic flights. Each flight gave us snack bags (domestic) or meal bags (international) with no other options for food or drink. The United snack bags contained water and biscuits, and the Turkish meals included a sandwich, dessert, water, and juice. Both airlines also provided more antiseptic wipes with the food, and Turkish continually passed out additional water bottles throughout the flight. I decided to wait to eat until the people around me had finished so that we didn’t all have our masks off at the same time. As for other amenities, we were given individually wrapped headphones on all of the flights, and the international flights provided individually wrapped blankets, but no pillows. Neither airline seemed to be restricting middle seats; about half of my flights were almost completely booked, and half were at about 50% capacity – it seemed to just depend on the demand for each flight and the size of the plane.

Deplaning, Luggage, and Immigration

All flights were deplaned orderly by rows. One of my United flights gate-checked all rolling bags because of the small plane, which led to a lot of congestion on the air bridge to retrieve our luggage. For international travel, every country will have different health and immigration rules, but I imagine some will be similar to my experience in Rwanda. Immediately on arrival a health official took my temperature and pulled up the form I had submitted prior to travel. He confirmed that I had not been experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, and then I was able to pass through to immigration. Everyone socially distanced in the Kigali airport for immigration and luggage pick-up.

My Takeaways

Overall my recent flying experiences went very smoothly. Because of my own precautions – lots of hand sanitizer and continual mask-wearing – I felt safe on these flights (and thankfully I can now confirm that I remained healthy after)! My main tips for anyone traveling would be:

  • Check updated airline rules and procedures – many have changed their luggage policies, and all have specific mask guidelines. It’s also helpful to get a sense of the meal service (or lack thereof) so you can plan ahead.
  • Bring a surplus of masks and hand sanitizer – although airlines provide some items, it’s best to bring your own to be safe.
  • To the extent possible, avoid congested areas of the airports – you can do this by checking-in online, using TSA pre-check, and potentially by obtaining lounge access.

As vaccines roll-out and travel begins to increase again, many countries are opening back up with specific entry guidelines in place to keep their citizens and visitors safe. However, no two countries are the same. For example, starting in April, Israel/the Holy Land will begin welcoming visitors who have received a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of departure and who have obtained comprehensive health travel insurance; which while similar to the requirements I encountered for Rwanda, are not identical. Therefore, choosing to book your upcoming travel with a tour company like Select International is a great option to reduce the stress of figuring out each country’s and airline’s requirements and to ensure you have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable trip!

(Please note that these trips were taken between September-November 2020; the details provided are accurate of my experiences during that time, however airline and airport policies may have since changed).

About the Author

Gracie Rosenbach is an international development professional who is passionate about travel and loves experiencing the beauty of Catholicism all over the world. Working in international food policy by day and sharing stories of the Universal Church on her Instagram and blog by night, Gracie hopes that her experiences meeting new people and visiting Catholic sites around the globe will inspire your wanderlust and help you to grow deeper in your faith


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June 14-23: Feast of Corpus Christi in Spello, Italy

The Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated around the world, but most especially here in Spello, Italy.  It lasts a whole week….in 2019 it will be from June 14 to 23.

Events during the whole week include: the Competition of Hand embroidery “Flowering Windows, Balconies and Alleys“, the competition of Flower Cake Design “Cakes in Bloom”, the floriculture exhibition market of “Spello in Bloom”, night tours of the citizen art sites “InfiorArt”.

Throughout the event it is open the Museum of Infiorate, you can see the beautiful flowered balconies and corners of the city and you can eat at the “Tavern of Infioratori”, menu based on flowers.

Preparing the streets for the celebration of The Feast of Corpus Christi in Spello, Italy
Preparing the streets for the celebration of The Feast of Corpus Christi in Spello, Italy

The townspeople work throught the previous day an in to the evening, then the highlight comes on Sunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi:  the streets are covered with a carpet of polychrome and perfumed of 70 infiorate by the religious theme, ready for the passage of the Sacred procession led by the Bishop.

You can check out our webpage on Spello here.

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Facing a long airport layover? Ever wondered how to access the VIP lounges?

Interest in using an airport lounge?


Most of us have been there:  whiling away the hours in an airport while waiting for your flight to be called, sitting in those uncomfortable seats, watching endless news on the overhead TV screens……..while a few lucky ones are in one of the VIP  lounges that offer plush seating, coffee, wine, food….even showers in some cases.

Here’s a comment we received:  “A few years back, we decided to cash in some of our frequent flier miles for a couple of first class tickets from LAX to Paris.  One of the advantages that came with those tickets was access to the Air France lounge.  Leaving LAX we got to relax, have a glass of wine, some great snacks and then board at our leisure.  The morning we flew back, the lounge had fresh orange juice, delicious buttery croissants (this was France, after all) and fresh brewed coffee.  A great way to start the long flight home (quite a bit longer due to the prevailing westerly winds), and we did not have to pay for breakfast at our hotel.”

So how can you take advantage of that?  Well, obviously if you have a first class (and sometimes business class) ticket, it comes along with the extra cost.  For the rest of us, there are a couple of options.


1.  In many cases you can purchase a short time pass directly at the airline’s lounge.  It depends upon the airline, and its policy of course, and there is no guarantee that you can get it that particular day and time.

2.  Some airlines offer access for an annual fee. If you fly regularly, it may be worth looking into a membership with a particular airline.  Usually for a fixed annual fee, you will receive a certain amount of passes per year. After you’ve used the passes, you can purchase more, or often receive a discount on booking future visits. Some of the high-end VIP airport lounges may only be accessible to premium class passengers, some still are available for cash access.  And, you are usually limited to that airline’s club….not any others.

3.  Some credit cards have arranged for you to pay with miles to access their clubs…..but it is an expensive way to use those hard-earned miles.

4. You can try our newest advertiser, Lounge Buddy.  They have an app that is easy to use without an annual fee, the costs to access are often lower, and there’s usually a wider choice of lounges available to the ‘casual’ flyer.

Lounge Buddy works by providing details of every available lounge in an airport, and how to access them. Lounge Buddy offers genuine reviews by real customers, details of all facilities, and photographs. For example, if you need fast wi-fi, find which VIP airport lounge offers the best by browsing them on Lounge Buddy. Likewise, if you’re interested in a drink and some snacks, but don’t want to pay the high price of the airport concessions, use Lounge Buddy to discover which lounges offer complimentary drinks and snacks.

Find out more about Lounge Buddy here.  They also offer reviews of hundreds of lounges around the world…(not all of them are worth the money), where they are located in the airport, and what services are offered.

If you purchase via them, The Catholic travel guide may earn a commission – although the cost to you WILL NOT increase. But commissions like this help support our website.

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Top 5 European train routes that are faster by train than plane


We often think of flying being a faster way to travel from city to city in Europe, but often that is not the case.

When you consider time spent in the long check-in lines at the airport (along with having to be there about two hours early) versus most trains requiring you to be there only 30 minutes prior to departure,  there is a great time savings there.

Then there is the fact that most train stations are in the heart of the city,  while most airports are a bus or cab drive away, train travel comes out not only faster but also cheaper than plane travel.

Consider the following infographic:


Infographic courtesy GoEuro….your source for train and bus tickets in Europe.


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Tips to make Italy train travel a breeze

Italy is one of the world’s most beautiful places. Since the time of the Romans and before, travelers have long sought out this part of Europe. From the snow capped mountains of the Italian Alps to the joys of the pretty beaches at the foot of Italy, Italy is a traveler’s delight. Despite offering culture, art and wonderful views at every turn, the nation of Italy is a relatively compact place. This makes it easy to get around. There are many ways for people to travel around Italy. People can flit from village to village by boat or head out one of the country’s famous highways. One of the most popular forms of all transport is by train. Italy’s trains are famously run on time and crisscross the entire country.

While travel by train is a great way to see both urban Italy and the Italian countryside, Italian trains can also be stressful. It helps to keep a few tips in mind when buying tickets, boarding, sitting on the train and heading out from the train platform. It also helps to keep a few tips in mind when navigating from one Italian line to the next.


Different Types of Trains

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that most Italian trains have two classes. There’s first class and second class. There are few differences between the two. Many local city trains, such as those found in Rome, do not have classes at all. Another important thing to keep in mind are the many different types of Italian train lines. There are both public train lines and privately run train lines.

In general, the Italian lines are divided into three types.

The Le Frecce trains provide high speed rail transit between major Italian cities.

Other important lines are the EuroCity, the InterCity, and the international train lines. These trains are part of a much larger network of trains typically spanning not only Italy but the surrounding nations as well. These are often covered by a rail pass.

There also regional trains. Regional trains are the local workhorse of the area, serving both travelers as well as commuters on their way to work.


Advance Reservations

It’s highly important to keep in mind that some lines require travelers to make advanced reservations. The Le Frecce lines require such reservations. It’s a good idea to make them as soon as your travel. Travelers can purchase specific passholder seat reservations that are reserved for their use. These are sold at both train stations and from many travel agencies in the United States and other places. If you have your agenda already, you’re in luck. You can easily reserve more than one of your planned trains during a single visit to the platform. You are not required to meet deadlines so this can be shortly before boarding. It’s a good idea to do this well in advance before you travel. Look up each route that you want to take before you go so. Make sure you know when the train departs and when it arrives.


Specific Trains

Many Italian trains travel a route that includes several major cities in a single city. For example, a train may go from Florence to Rome and then to Naples. However, some trains stick to specific route. Be aware of these routes before you leave. For example, the Circumvesuviana brings travelers from Naples and then to Pompei and to further south to Amalfi. This is the only train that covers these routes. Likewise, the Malpensa Express train is the train that will get you from the center of Milan to the airport. These train lines should be reserved in advance whenever possible. If you have not done so, you should make sure to allow enough time to get the station. During the busier and more popular tourist times, seats fill up fast. Getting there early will help you make sure you don’t miss your connections and you do get a seat.


Where to Buy Tickets

It is possible to buy a rail pass. However, the rail pass is not accepted on all lines. In that case, you may need to buy your tickets at the station. There are ticket machines found in all railways. At the same time, many people avoid these machines as they can be complicated and confusing. Buying ticket at the ticket window gives you more options and a person to speak with. Make sure you are standing in the right line or you’ll have to start all over again. Buying tickets at travel agencies may cost a little more but it can help avoid crowds and work with people who understand the local trains intimately. They frequently have discounts not available to the general public. Keep in mind there are discounts available for certain groups. For example, if you are sixty or over, you can save money on your train fare. The same is true for those under twenty-five and under. They can also be eligible for discount train tickets. Sensible measures will make your Italian train travel far easier and far less stressful.

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Save Money & Time with Nightjet overnight trains

We have always advocated train travel over air within Europe:  it is spacious, more relaxed, you get to see things at ground level….and you may even meet some Europeans!  There is much more to discover down here rather than at 30,000 feet above the earth.

Another recommendation we also have….if it fits your itinerary, consider an overnight train.  No long waits at the airport check-in counter…..and, you can cover a pretty good distance while at the same time saving the cost of a hotel room.  Not to mention you arrive in the city center….no costly taxi from the airport into town.

One of the best of these services is Nightjet……offered by Austrian Rail, and has service in Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany.  They offer a variety of options from couchettes to sleepers.  And they even offer wheelchair compartments.

Even the couchettes are comfortable, although we recommend compartments if you can afford to spend a little extra.

If you are using a Eurail Pass, you will need to pay an additional reservation fee, much as you do with many high-speed trains.  Still the costs are quite reasonable, and you don’t have a hotel bill to worry about!  And, if you have ever slept on a train, you know there is nothing like it.  Could be one of the best nights’ sleep you ever get!

Compartments come with complimentary breakfast.

Click here for the official website of Nightjet.

Here is an in-depth review of Nightjet from “The Man in Seat 61”, an expert on European train travel.

Photos courtesy Nightjet

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Four Best Travel Destinations Based on Public Transport

Public transportation–such as buses, subways, and trains–can provide some of the best ways to get around a city. The average driver spends 42 hours per year sitting in traffic, which contributes to stress, anxiety, and late nights getting home. In cities where public transit is popular, however, there is a trend toward shorter commute times, and that spells relief for many who are choosing to leave their cars behind.

For travelers who want to see the best a city has to offer and aren’t interested in using a rental car, there are many options these days. The best way to start is by sitting down with a map of your destination and choosing the top places you’ll want to visit–tourist sites, restaurants, bars, clubs, and museums–so you’ll have a good idea of the route you need to take. Do some research on how much fare will cost for buses, trains, or bike rental so there will be no surprises later.

Here are a few of the best places for public or alternative transit.


Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen has made several lists in recent years of the best cities to get around in, and for good reason; they have committed to making bicycling more popular than automobile travel and have built several bike bridges around the city, making it a clean, beautiful place to travel in.


Washington, D.C.

Buses and the train–called the Metro system–are the easiest ways to get around in D.C., but it will cost you; the city has some of the highest transportation fares in the country, with a monthly pass reportedly costing around $230.


Austin, Texas

Many young couples are flocking to Austin to start a family or pursue a career because they know they can put their money toward a new house and forgo a car payment. Austin is one of the best places for walking and bike riding, as the city has gone to great lengths to build protected bike paths which had the added benefit of relieving traffic congestion.

“Building protected bike paths downtown has been great for Austin. Not only has it made getting around downtown safer and quicker for cyclists, but the protected paths have moved them out of harm’s way and relieved traffic congestion. Having a bikeable downtown has made everything better in Austin,” said Mayor Steve Adler.city-768797_960_720

San Francisco

San Francisco’s Bay Area is one of the most beautiful, historic places to catch a ride on public transit, either by bus or by cable car. The latter is one of the most cost-effective ways to get around, particularly if you’ll be heading to several stops in a day; you can get multiple rides on a day pass for around $17.

The best thing to do before any trip is a bit of research; find out the costs, possible discounts, hours, and peak busy time for any public transportation you think you might use during the visit and consider day passes if you’ll be riding more than a couple of times.

Article by blogger Dolly Santos

Photo via Pixabay by Unsplash

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Loving Thy Neighbor in Detroit

Loving Thy Neighbor in Detroit

Guest post by Teresa Bergen

Before visiting Detroit, I’d heard that the industrial Midwestern city was fighting hard to come back from blight, inspiring both local and imported artists and entrepreneurs to dream up new projects. But I wasn’t expecting the heightened sense of collaboration. During four days in Detroit, I met people who were as interested in uplifting the community as expanding their own wallets. Since I was visiting in a secular capacity, I have no idea what their faiths were. But I met excellent role models for anybody aspiring to act as Catholics are supposed to: loving thy neighbor and easing the lot of poor people.

Here are just a few of the entrepreneurial ventures I encountered who are creating new and wonderful things in Detroit.

  • The Empowerment Plan: Started as a class project, founder Veronika Scott now employs 20 formerly homeless individuals as seamstresses. They sew coats that convert into sleeping bags for homeless people. Their factory is located inside the Ponyride business incubator, which requires tenants to help each other as well as the wider community.
  • Detroit Vegan Soul: Two young African American women, Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery, loved traditional soul food, but recognized the negative health effects it had on their families. So they developed healthier, plant-based versions of favorite recipes and opened a popular restaurant patronized by customers of all races.
  • Detroit River Sports: Alex Howbert grew up sailing on the Detroit River, and wondering why hardly anybody else did. Now his business Detroit Water Sports rents kayaks and gives kayak tours, letting him share his love of the river with visitors and residents.
  • Wheelhouse Detroit: Kelli Kavanaugh gets Motor City residents out of cars and onto bikes. Her guides offer a variety of themed tours, including one focusing on Detroit’s churches.

Beautiful Old Churches

I stayed an extra day to see a bit more. Since that day happened to be a Sunday, it was the perfect day to get inside some churches. Without a car, it’s hard to access many of the city’s more famous churches. I was bummed to miss Saint Anne of Detroit, the city’s oldest church, and Saint Josaphat, which I also heard was fabulous. But it turned out that my walking tour of churches near my hotel was fascinating and provided plenty of religious art and history.

Old Saint Mary’s

Old Saint Mary’s is hard to miss when you’re touring Detroit. As I touristed around town, I kept catching glimpses of its tall, striped towers. Since it was close to where I was staying at Aloft (an excellent hotel), I walked over to Greektown for the 8:30 mass. Saint Mary’s was built in 1884 and provides that lofty, big church experience – high ceilings, grand old wooden confessionals, even three grottoes in the rear.  It was the first German Catholic church in Detroit, built long before the neighborhood took a turn for the Greek. After mass, I spoke with two priests. One was from Utah. He said that nothing in the west compares to Detroit’s cathedrals. Nor does he think the city’s bad rep is warranted. “Detroit is wonderful,” he told me.

The other priest described Old Saint Mary’s congregation as traditional. Not that they want to turn the clock back before Vatican Two, but the church has old-style confessions, Eucharist at the communion rail and a traditional choir rather than folk or electronic music. He said it’s a place where people can come and worship with other people but not have to hug everyone. He kindly directed me to two other close-by churches for my self-guided walking tour.

Holy Family

This small church turned out to be a total gem. Completed in 1910, it’s long served Detroit’s Sicilian and Southern Italian community. I accidentally wandered in during mass. The interior was so gorgeous I wanted to take photos, so I stayed. Holy Family is colorfully painted predominantly in light blue with pink trim. An angel-painted dome surrounds a statue of the holy family. Every alcove seemed to hold a lovelier statue than the last. I especially liked the painted cherubs pouring rose petals down on a statue of Mary. This mass was even more traditional than Old Saint Mary’s. The priest faced the altar and spoke Latin (or was it Italian?) for much of the service. If you happen to be in recovery from alcoholism, the communion wafers are pre-dotted with wine. editors note:  not sure how that would apply to recovering alcoholics, but you could perhaps ask the priest in advance to ask for a host that does not have alcohol in it.

I walked outside after mass and found about 40 people preparing for an annual procession through the neighborhood in honor of Saint Fara di Cinisi. With my red hair, I definitely stood out amongst the folks with Italian accents. They were friendly enough when I struck up a conversation and said I was welcome to join the procession. But I opted instead to continue my walking tour.

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Exploring the rich Catholic history of Santa Fe, New Mexico

Guest post by Teresa Bergen  www.teresabergen.com

Even if you don’t usually go to daily mass, the sound of church bells might draw you to Santa Fe’s impressive cathedral at 7 am. Especially if you’re staying by the plaza. It took three minutes to walk from my room at the Inn & Spa at Loretto to the Saint Francis Basilica, and ten minutes to walk to the Guadalupe Shrine. Daily mass two days in a row probably qualifies as my personal best.

If you enjoy Catholic history, exploring old churches and chapels, and shopping for Mexican and Native American-influenced Catholic art, you’ll have a great time in Santa Fe. In four days I managed to visit four churches or chapels (each with a gift store), walk through a Stations of the Cross garden, buy some Virgin of Guadeloupe souvenirs and still have plenty of time to do lots of secular touristy stuff. Here are a few good stops to make when visiting this special city.

*San Miguel Chapel*

My favorite stop was the San Miguel Chapel. This charming little Mission-style chapel was built by Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico in the early 1600s. Locals claim it’s the oldest church structure in the US. My airport shuttle driver told me that Santa Fe debates Saint Augustine about which has an older church structure. Saint Augustine has the oldest church structure with a foundation, he said, but San Miguel is the oldest church built right on the ground. I can’t settle this debate, but I can say it was a fun place to visit. A helpful volunteer docent stood by to answer questions.

Must-see features of the chapel include the altar screen and the bell. The altar screen, or *reredos,* may have been designed by an anonymous artist known as the Laguna Santero. He worked in New Mexico from about 1796 to 1808. A statue of San Miguel (Saint Michael) dating back to 1700 takes pride of place on the reredos. Four oval paintings also adorn the screen: Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Colette of France and Saint Louis IX, King of France.

The old bell dates back to 1356. The story goes that Christians were losing their fight against the Moors, until they vowed to craft a bell dedicated to Saint Joseph. Everybody relinquished their gold and silver-plated jewelry, which was all melted down to make the three-inch thick bell.  Writing in 1908, Reverend W.J. Howlett described the bell as embodying “the richness of gold and the sweetness of sacrifice.” The famous bell made a cameo in Willa Cather’s novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” Best of all, visitors can hit the old bell with a mallet! It does make a sweet sound. You can also look down through panes of glass in the sanctuary floor and see old adobe steps from the 1600s.

Admission is one dollar. The San Miguel Chapel offers Sunday masses in both Latin and English, and periodic evening concerts. Click here for more information on San Miguel Chapel

*Santuario de Guadelupe (Shrine of Guadelupe)*

The Virgin of Guadelupe is extremely popular in New Mexico, so it makes sense she has a shrine in Santa Fe. Visitors can’t miss the shrine due to the large, beautiful statue outside, which is especially pretty when lit up at night.

Initially a mission church at the end of the Camino Real – a massive road running from Mexico City to Santa Fe – it’s had a 200+ year history. Though the shrine fell into disrepair and closed at times, it’s a thriving parish church today. When I visited on a Wednesday at the ridiculously early hour of 6:30 a.m., about 40 people were there.

The shrine’s most outstanding feature is the altar screen painted by famous Mexican painter Jose de Alzibar in 1783. The painting was transported to Santa Fe by burro.

The history room behind the left side of the sanctuary displays a collection of old photos, art and lovely old stained glass windows depicting Mary. The gift shop behind the history room has many saint-themed souvenirs.

The shrine is open from 9 to 4 daily, or you can go for 6:30 daily mass.  Click here for more information about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

*Saint Francis Basilica*

If you go downtown at all, you’ll see the cathedral towering over the plaza and silver shops, and you’ll hear the church bells ringing every 15 minutes. This is the site where a church was first built in 1610, the year the city was founded. The original cathedral was destroyed by an Indian attack long ago, and has been rebuilt or remodeled several times. Its current incarnation dates back to 1887. In 2005, Pope Benedict elevated the cathedral to basilica status. Stained glass windows depict the twelve apostles. Seven archbishops are buried beneath the sanctuary.

The 7 a.m. daily mass is celebrated in a little back chapel dedicated to Saint Joseph. The altar screen depicts scenes from Joseph’s life painted on wood. Locals and visitors convene for mass at the cathedral. I was especially impressed by a uniformed police officer sitting in the front row. He was so devout, he brought his own milagro-adorned cross for his personal devotion. Not a sight I’ve seen back home in Portland.

The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross

Behind the basilica is a Stations of the Cross Garden.

The metal sculptures capture the torture of Christ’s passion, which is hard to bear.

Click here for more information on the Cathedral Basilica

*Loretto Chapel *

The Loretto Chapel is probably Santa Fe’s most visited Catholic site, though the chapel has been desacralized. The Church of the Antioch offers services on Sundays. It’s also a popular place for weddings.

The miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel
The miraculous staircase at the Loretto Chapel

The chapel’s miraculous staircase has spawned many a story. Some believe that Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, carved the beautiful wooden spiral staircase. I also heard that the chapel burnt twice, somehow leaving the stairway untouched.

While the chapel is lovely and historically interesting, it’s not the place to go for a quiet moment of contemplation. During my visit, a loud recorded history played nonstop. The chapel is open from 9 to 5. Admission is $3.
Click here for more info on the Loretto Chapel

And that’s just the Catholic history. Santa Fe has more than 100 art galleries, fabulous museums, restaurants, Southwest-themed shopping, Native American culture, and many nearby places for hiking and biking. This city is a terrific place to vacation.


About the author:  Teresa Bergen lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. She’s the author of Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide and has penned hundreds of articles about travel, nutrition, health, fitness and yoga. Her articles and internet content appear in many periodicals, including MSN Healthy Living, travelandleisure.com, Northwest Travel & Life, the South China Morning Post and Whole Life Times. She’s the vegetarian editor of Real Food Traveler and holds a BA in journalism and an MFA in fiction writing.