If you’re the praying type, could you please keep my boyfriend and I in your prayers as we travel this weekend? This weather update does not look friendly toward our trip – the key words I got were “tornadoes,” “hail,” and “severe thunderstorms.” We will be driving to Kansas City on Saturday morning, backtracking to St. Louis Saturday evening, spending most of Sunday in St. Louis, and then returning to Illinois on Sunday night. Basically, driving into the storm, stewing in the storm, driving away from the storm, and then having the storm catch up with us for all day Sunday.
We’ve been very lucky thus far with weather. Our worst days were simply overcast, and our best were gorgeous. At the very least, this weekend should prove to be interesting! Particularly taking those photos in front of the basilicas – we always just mount the camera to a tripod and time it. Perhaps we should tape an umbrella to it this time…?
We ended up visiting our third basilica – the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill (usually referred to as just Holy Hill) – right after our second (St. Josaphat) on September 4, 2011. You may recall that we stopped by here back in July, but this time we went for a longer visit. We’ll be back again in two weeks on April 28, 2012, when Cardinal Dolan celebrates Mass. Located out on its own in rural Hubertus, Wisconsin (northwest of Milwaukee), this basilica is certainly much more isolated than others and was a stark contrast to St. Josaphat’s, which is located in downtown Milwaukee. While I’ll write about some parts of the basilica’s history here, if you’re interested in a more thorough version, I suggest the History of the Basilica page hosted by Holy Hill.
As the name suggests, the basilica is built on top of what was initially a 289 foot high hill (it has since been leveled at the top for the current church). The hill’s association with Mary began in the 1670s, when tradition has it that Jesuit missionaries placed a cross and stone altar atop the hill, dedicating it to the Blessed Virgin. Later, in the mid-1800s, a hermit named Francois Soubrio was discovered living on the hill by local farmers. Soubrio had supposedly discovered a diary kept by one of the Jesuit missionaries, which described the hill in Wisconsin. Soubrio – who was originally from France – felt a longing to visit this hill, and left his job in Quebec to journey to Wisconsin.
The shrine has had three incarnations – first as a small log cabin (built in 1863), then as a shrine and retreat center (1880-1925), and finally the shrine as it is seen today, which was completed in 1931. In 1906, it was decided to have a group of religious run the shrine. The church is currently under the care of Discalced Carmelite monks, who initially came from Germany in 1906 at the invitation of the Archbishop. Since the current shrine was built after the Carmelites took custody of Holy Hill, there is a subtle Carmelite influence in the artwork throughout the buildings on the grounds.
While the grounds of the basilica are vast, there are four main areas I want to highlight: the upper sanctuary, the shrine, the lower sanctuary, and the tower. I’ll touch very briefly on the rest of the grounds at the end.
Starting from the parking lot, you have the option of climbing the stairs up to the church, or taking the elevator. I recommend the climb, but be sure you’re wearing the shoes for it. Given that we had just attended Mass at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, I was sporting a classy outfit and tennis shoes, having decided that this probably wasn’t a good place for heels. My boyfriend was fine in his dress shoes though.
You will eventually come to a small landing where you can enter the lower sanctuary or one of the towers (both of which are discussed below). Continuing up one more flight of stairs will bring you to the entrance for the upper sanctuary of the church.
You can see the umbraculum and tintinnabulum to the right and left of the altar respectively. The entire sanctuary is saturated in Marian images. The stained glass that lines the sanctuary depicts events in Mary’s life, while the stained glass at the back of the church honors Mary in her title as the Immaculate Conception, the patron of the US.
Off to the right of the upper sanctuary is the Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. Lining the entrance to the shrine are crutches and other physical aids left by those who have been healed by petitioning Our Lady for her intercession.
The statue depicts Mary presenting Christ to the world. Made in Germany, it was brought to the US in 1876 by a group attending the Philadelphia World Fair. At first, it resided in a nearby church, but was moved to Holy Hill (then a log cabin) in 1878. The stained glass lining the shrine depicts portions of the Hail, Holy Queen.
One of my favorite parts of this entire visit was the altar here:
At first glance, it didn’t look like much. But upon further inspection, it’s the lineage of Christ. The words above the depiction read “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” while the bottom translates as “O Root of Jesse.” In the bottom left corner of the altar sits Abraham, dreaming of his many future descendants. If you look closely in the center, you can see a crown just above David’s name.
Immediately below the upper sanctuary is the lower sanctuary. The lower sanctuary is also called the Chapel of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, hinting at the Carmelite influence.
The chapel and side altars are decorated with roses and rose stems, symbolic of St. Therese.
The landing outside of the lower sanctuary features some artwork, news clippings, and historical displays related to the shrine. In particular, the replica of the church on the right below has moving parts that perform when you pay a small amount (25¢ or 50¢). It takes some artistic license, since the church is perched high on the hill, but it’s fun to watch.
It can be physically challenging to reach most parts of the church (lots of steep climbs!), but the most difficult is the tower. If you’re facing the church, the rightmost tower is open for visitors to climb – no elevator for this part. Keep in mind that it’s shut in the winter due to the Wisconsin snow. Reaching the summit after 178 steps offers you a wonderful panoramic view of southeastern Wisconsin. And if you look closely, you can even see the Milwaukee skyline off in the distance.
I mentioned on my previous post about Holy Hill that we were waiting for a more formal visit until the leaves had changed color. This view is why. If you want to try for the fall colors, I highly recommend checking out Wisconsin’s Fall Color Report ahead of time to gauge the progress of the trees. Since Holy Hill is a relatively short drive from where I am (as well as my closest basilica), my boyfriend and I are hoping to try again another fall.
While the two sanctuaries, the shrine, and the tower are the highlights of a trip to Holy Hill, there are several other aspects. The Discalced Carmelite monks have their living quarters behind the church. They also run a retreat center and cafeteria that is open for visitors to eat at. The Stations of the Cross line a long path around the grounds. There is the Marian hallway which connects the elevator to the lower church. Finally, there’s the gift shop, which is accessible on the same level as the parking lot. If you’re looking to take the elevator up to the various parts of the church, you can find it nearby the gift shop.
And finally, a picture in front of the church! Well, two – one from our first visit on the left, and another from this most recent visit on the right. Since the church is only accessible from a small platform in front of it, we went with an unusual angle to try and fit the church in there. If you look closely at the top of the tower on the far right, you can see someone with his arms raised looking out.
Apologies for the long delay between posts, as I know some people were looking forward to hearing about Holy Hill! I’m hoping to ramp up the frequency of posts to get my closer to where I currently am.
The exciting news: we officially hit five basilicas as of Sunday. I know they aren’t all up here yet, but they soon will be.
In other news, we’ll be traveling this weekend to several gorgeous churches in Kansas City and St. Louis: the Kansas City Missouri (Mormon) Temple, Old St. Patrick’s Oratory, St. Frances de Sales Oratory, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and the Basilica of St. Louis the King. In addition to completing my two-year old goal of visiting the temple during its open house, we’ll have the pleasure of bringing our total basilica count up to seven, nearly doubling it in the span of a week.
To commemorate five basilicas, here are some pictures of those first five. I think the last one is my favorite.
This morning, I logged onto Google Maps to work on some parts of my master religious buildings map (which I’ll eventually add to the map page). I was busy piddling around and marking religious buildings, when I noticed an oddly pixelated option in the top right corner.
At first, I thought my computer was loading pages oddly. But upon closer inspection, I realized I had never seen a “Quest” option before. Clicking it yielded the following:
Wow. Being nostalgic for the days of simpler video games that my mind could actually process, I was all for an NES version of Google Maps. Of course, I checked out Madison first, and when I zoomed in far enough, I found an icon for Monona Terrace (photo attribution):
Very nice. What other icons could there be? I jumped to Washington DC, where I found some monuments. But as I proceeded to different US cities, I kept striking out – nothing in Indianapolis, or Milwaukee, or even the Alamo in San Antonio. It occurred to me that I should check outside of the country. Turns out there are quite a few religious buildings in icon form. First stop? Europe.
I managed to also geek out quite a bit on my Twitter feed while meandering about the globe:
I later thought to Google around and see when Quest view went up, and I found this. Then I remembered that April 1 is tomorrow. Having experienced some of Google’s earlier pranks (like Gmail and Google Gulp), I am quite fond of these every year, but they always sneak up on me. Who can forget the absurdity of Gmail Motion? I lost a lot of time this morning hunting around for all sorts of icons, but it was grand fun. Probably my two favorite that aren’t religious are Buckingham Palace in London, England (they actually have the little guards out in front!) and Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan:
Has anyone else played around in Quest view? If so, do you have a favorite icon you found (religious or otherwise)? Link it up in the comments to share with everyone!
As those of you who have ever kept a blog know, writing for the internet can be incredibly discouraging if your heart isn’t in the right place with it. With all the content there is online, each blog is only an infinitesimally small drop in a very vast sea of ideas. I have always had pretty flexible expectations for this blog – a place for me to chronicle the trips my boyfriend and I take, a way to improve my photography, a concrete hobby aside from my research, and a resource for those who are looking for information about religious sites. But my expectations have been greatly surpassed, and I want to thank three groups of people in particular.
First, those of you who follow the blog. I never envisioned this blog having followers, because who else is weird enough to want to read about the history of religious sites? You all are wonderful for your encouragement. Additionally, I’ve had several of you submit ideas of places to visit. Keep those ideas coming! I apologize for the lack of new content as of late though. This semester has hit very hard and is sapping most of my free time.
Second, those aggregates which have helped to spread my blog and create one of those things I cherish – an interfaith dialogue. They bring in wide set of viewpoints that help to keep this blog accurate. ThePulp.it has featured a few of my posts. Also, 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary has guided several people here who have introduced me to new places to visit or concepts to explore (like stave churches). I hope to restart 7 Quick Takes in the near future. Finally, my post concerning the opening of the Kansas City Missouri Temple was featured on Desert News, a Utah-based LDS news source. Aside from the wonderful interaction with this influx of Mormons, it was great to have them reading all of my articles concerning their faith and offering helpful clarifications. You can read some of my tangential thoughts about that interaction in my fourth point here.
The third group of people are those who benefit or help contribute to this blog, and they probably won’t ever see this. One of the unique things this blog has offered which I never anticipated is communication with a diverse group of people on the places I have traveled to, particularly those with little online presence. It’s been interesting to see what others think of some of these sites.
For example, my post on St. Mary of the Oaks. I’ve had three people who are either descendants or in-laws of John Endres (the man who built the shrine) comment on that post. From what I’ve been able to gather from comments, emails, and where the hits are coming from, one of the relatives must have found this post after hearing about the shrine from a grandmother-in-law. Since then, the post seems to have been passed around the family. There’s talk of a family reunion near the shrine in the future, to allow these younger generations to see part of their heritage.
Another great example is the update I posted on the Shrine of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. I store all of my personal photos for this blog on Flickr in the hopes that others can benefit from them. About 3 months after I posted the pictures for the shrine, a commenter mentioned he knew of the church, and inquired about it (you may recall that I wasn’t able to get inside or find any history). We started a dialogue about the church, and it turns out he’s part of the Baptist congregation that now worships at the shrine. You can read our comments here. Additionally, an antique bookseller had a book about the history of the shrine, and found my post when doing some background checking. He left a link to a summary of the book, which provided some more details concerning the shrine’s history.
Remember my friend who is part of a church plant? Since writing about Awaken Church, it has actually become one of my most searched-for posts. My friend was talking to one of his church’s newer members a few months ago about my blog, and it turns out this man made his decision to visit Awaken in part because of that post.
Finally, I met a friend through all of this blogging. Technically, it was from posting over at IgnatiumToday, but had I never blogged here first, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to post there. She happened to recognize some identifying diocesan details, as well as my name from when I entered the Catholic Church in 2010. It turns out she works at the same parish church I attend. A few months after, she invited me out for coffee, and we have been keeping in touch ever since.
So, thanks to all of your for making my first year of blogging so memorable! Here’s to a fun and productive second year, brimming with adventure and learning (and, of course, basilicas!).
Go here! Then click on the little “Reserve Now” button near the top right of the main column.
Be forewarned – something is wrong in the system with the dates.* When you select a day, it actually gives you your reservation on the previous day. I’ve tried contacting them through the phone numbers provided, but I keep getting busy tones. So, my Saturday, April 14 reservation shows up as Friday, April 13 on my ticket. If you reserve today, you may want to check back in the coming days to see if that gets fixed.
Update: The system was fixed sometime last night/this morning. If you were affected and cannot reschedule for your intended date and time online, I suggest calling (801-570-0080). The woman I talked to was very helpful. I explained that the remaining times wouldn’t work for us (considering we’ll be driving a considerable distance) and she offered to manually reschedule our time to honor our initial reservation.
So. It sounds like we’ve got our intended date of April 14, 2:15.
* If you’re a nerdy computer scientist like me, you’ll love the opportunity to diagnose a type of off by one error.
I don’t often share my writing elsewhere unless it pertains to what I’m doing here. In that vein, I wrote a post on Wednesday over at Ignitum Today which discusses the benefits of studying other religions. Although it is told from my point of view as a Catholic, I think many of the lessons to be learned are applicable to any person, even atheists. Hopefully it also gives some broader background for what I am doing in this space.
With all of the hobbies to pick from, I choose to spend my free time studying lies. Everything from why Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays to why Hindus eschew cow. Of course, these are factually true, in that those practitioners do believe those things, but as a belief for Catholics, they are not. As Catholics, the differing views espoused by other denominations or faiths can be striking; they are misguided at best, outright falsehoods at worst.
When it is phrased in such a manner, religious studies can seem pointless. Where else in life do we choose to partake in learning untruths? Wouldn’t time be better spent understanding our own Catholic faith better? Heaven knows we have enough material to keep us occupied for well beyond our lifetime.
Despite their objectively incorrect theology, every religion has the potential to touch our lives. It may be in how a particular faith altered the history of our world, or how a traditional religious custom has become part of our town’s heritage. Religion can even sneak into our mainstream culture: many restaurants in the US restructure menus during Lent to offer more vegetarian and seafood options, while several Japanese cultural customs are remnants of Shinto purity beliefs. On some level, all of these scenarios hinge on understanding religion to comprehend their full meaning.