Home » Destinations » U.S.A. » Portland, Oregon: National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother


Portland, Oregon: National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother


History of The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother:

This sanctuary of peace and prayer within the city has its roots in the 19th century near-tragedy of a little boy in Ontario, Canada. When Ambrose Mayer’s mother almost died in childbirth, he prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He promised to do great work for the Church if his mother lived.

His mother lived:  Father Mayer was a man of his word. He joined the Servite Order, also known as the Servants of Mary, and was sent to Portland in 1918. After he’d been there a few years he heard of a former quarry for sale. To him, it was a perfect place for a shrine to Mary.

He launched a national campaign to raise the funds. In 1923, workers carved a 50-foot high cave into a 110-foot cliff. This is still the Grotto’s most distinctive feature, and the main thing visitors come to see.

Inside the cave is a replica of the Pieta. On either side, bronze angels hoist lit torches. The stone altar is made from native rock and potted flowers lend color to the stone cave. Nowadays, choir music plays softly from discreet speakers, and you smell the wax from hundreds of devotional candles. The 62-acre Grotto has grown up around the original cave shrine.

In 1929, a ten-story elevator was built to take visitors up to the top of the basalt cliff. The upstairs features a charming little chapel to Saint Anne (Mary’s mother), built in 1934, and a very modern meditation center, built in 1991. Visitors walk along wooded paths, each turn revealing another shrine, statue, carving, the Servite monastery or the labyrinth. When Father Mayer found the site, nothing much was going on this far east in Portland. Now the streets below have become tawdry, with used car lots, massage parlors and cheap motels. It’s uplifting to take the elevator up to this wooded area and literally rise above it all. From this vantage point, you look past commerce to trees and mountains.

Simply called The Grotto, the Shrine is a real surprise in a hectic commercial part of Portland, Oregon. Turn into the parking lot, walk onto the wooded grounds, and suddenly you’re surrounded by the peace of tall trees, stone and Portland’s ubiquitous ferns and moss. The sound of traffic recedes to a distant hum.

Many locals come to the Grotto regularly for Mass in the Chapel of Mary, built in 1955. On the wall high above the altar is a breathtaking painting by Jose De Soto of Mary being crowned in heaven. You’ll also find statues of saints – made in Italy from Carrara marble – especially Servites like Saint Juliana Falconieri, Saint Peregrine and Saint Philip Benizi. A mosaic of the seven founders of the Servite order is located on the right hand wall of the church. The Servites include priests, brothers, active and contemplative nuns, and lay groups.

Saint Peregrine is a special favorite here. The first Saturday of every month, the Chapel of Mary celebrates a special Saint Peregrine Mass for the sick. People with cancer, AIDS and other diseases attend.

Since 1233, Servites have been dedicated to Mary under her title of Mother of Sorrows.

Unfortunately, in March 2024, a mentally ill man damaged some of the shrine.  You can read the story here.

Traveling to the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother:

Address: 8840 NE Skidmore St., Portland, Oregon 97220

GPS coordinates: 45° 33′ 11.5452” N, 122° 34′ 24.3804” W

Tel:    +1 (503) 254-7371     Fax: +1 (503) 254-7948

Click here for the official website of the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother

Article contributed by Teresa Bergen www.teresabergen.com

Click here to find hotels in Portland, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor

⇐ Back to Catholic places of interest in the U.S.A.


Leave a Comment