When I moved to Portland one of the first places I heard about was The Grotto at the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. This 62-acre Catholic shrine is the result of a combined vision between its founder Fr. Ambrose Mayer and the creators of British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens, Robert and Jennie Butchart. It’s a peaceful place for reflection that welcomes visitors of all faiths.
I’ve been there several times over the past decade and each time I’ve enjoyed the peaceful natural setting and beautiful art found in this spiritual refuge. These are just a few of the many scuptures, paintings, and mosaics you’ll find when you explore the sculpture gardens of Northeast Portland’s Grotto.
Lower Level Plaza
Climb the stairs to the Lower Level Plaza and you’ll find the outstreatched arms of a Sacred Heart Statue welcoming you into its peaceful world. Meant to convey Jesus’s warmth and humanity, it’s stark white Carrara marble stands out against the lush green landscape.
Next you’ll come to an immense bronze statue of a robust Christ carrying the Cross. Cast in Gesslingen, Warttemburg, Germany in 1931, this Christus Statue represents the central act of his sacrifice, and in this depiction he points to a statue of Mary perched atop the cliff over the Grotto’s main alter.
A replica of the Michelangelo’s Pieta is found inside the Grotto cave. It was placed on the alter in 1930, and implies an act of mercy and compassion, and the love of a mother for her son just as the original does in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Peregrine Masaic
A vibrant blue mosaic of St. Peregrine is located near the ramp to the Grotto’s elevator. As the patron saint of miraculous healing, St. Peregrine is shown with a wound on his leg that was mysteriously healed after a night of prayer. To honor this saint, the Grotto has created a ministry for those suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
Upper Level Scupture Gardens
Take the elevator to the upper level (purchase tickets in the Welcome Center) and visit the Meditation Chapel overlooking the Columbia River. It offers an amazing panoramic view of the Cascades, including Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainer. It’s an amazing modern building, and one that invites quiet contemplation.
Seven marble reliefs depicting the joys and sorrows of the father of Jesus is found in St. Joseph’s Grove. The freestanding, life-size statute of Joseph holding the infant Jesus was one of the original sculptures brought to the Grotto from Piertrasanta, Italy.
The little, red St. Anne’s Chapel sitting in the center of the Upper Level gardens houses several images of the Madonna from around the world. Built in 1934, it’s a great reminder of the worldwide connections Christanity has fostered.
In front of the Servite monastery stands the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother statue. It stands at the center of the Grotto’s Rose Garden, which is often inhabited by Servite friars living on the premises.
The one and a half acre Peace Garden offers many places for reflection next to babbling brooks and beautiful wildflowers.
Look for the series of bronze plaques depicting the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. Mary Lewis, one of Oregon’s premier artists, created the Luminous series in 2005 when Pope John Paul II proclaimed a the fourth set of mysteries.
Perform a walking meditation on a scaled-down version of the labyrinth found at Chartes Cathedral in France.
The stories of the Via Matris, or the Way of Our Sorrowful Mother, are told in 34 pinewood sculptures housed in glass cases along the trail. They were created in Pietralba, Italy and depict Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus Christ.
At the next crossroads you’ll come to a path leading to the Grotto’s latest installment, a series of five shrines representing Catholic traditions from around the world. Each one is reflective of its individual culture and shows the wide variety of people who worship under one faith.
The Stations of the Cross Pathway
Don’t leave without walking the Stations of the Cross. It’s a traditional Catholic mediation practice focusing on the message of the crucifixion. Bronze plaques lead you through the story, circling around to the Sacred Heart Statue at the sanctuary’s entrance.
There is much to see at the Grotto. The Visitor Complex has more Christian themed art on display, including a shrine brought to the Oregon Territory in 1844 by the region’s first missionaries. Throughout the year the Chapel of Mary, another place to explore Christian iconography, holds regular masses and special masses celebrating Christian holidays are held throughout the year at the Grotto cave.