The heart of the shrine is Our Lady’s Grotto, a rock cave carved into the base of a 110 foot basalt cliff. High above a stone altar overflowing with fresh flowers is a life-sized replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta. The statue of Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus, is flanked by two bronze angels bearing torches.
The Grotto was the dream of Father Ambrose Mayer, the first Servite pastor in the Archdiocese of Portland. His lifelong desire was to find the perfect site on which to build a suitable tribute to Mary, Mother of Jesus. He found it here in what then was a bit of rugged, untamed wilderness at the edge of the city.
The land was purchased from the Union Pacific Railroad for $48,000. Work began in September, 1923, and less than a year later, 3000 people gathered for the first Mass and the blessing/dedication of the shrine.
Today, the Plaza Level covers nearly 20 acres of woodland tucked up against the base of the cliff. It includes the Chapel of Mary (see Mass schedule), Stations of the Cross, and the Grotto itself (cave and plaza). Wanderers will find numerous statues set among the towering pines and native shrubs. There is also a Welcome Center, Coffee Express, and Gift Shop.
The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother is a non-profit organization supported solely by the proceeds from its gift shop and donations. It’s administered by the Order of Friars Servants of Mary (Servites) USA Province, who live and work in a monastery onsite.
The Grotto is open year-round. Hours are 9am-8:30pm, Monday through Sunday. For a map and detailed directions, please check here.
Special Note: There is no admission charge to tour the gardens and structures found on the Plaza Level. But to reach the botanical gardens and smaller shrines located at the top of the cliff, a $4 token is needed to ride the elevator.