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The Grotto in Portland, Oregon

Claudia Sanchez

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The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother, popularly known as The Grotto, is a Catholic outdoor shrine and sanctuary located in the Madison South district of Portland, Oregon, United States. Constructed in 1924, the sanctuary covers 62 acres (25 ha),[2] set both at the foot of, and atop, a 110 foot (34 m) cliff. It is a ministry of the Servite Friars, Order of Friar Servants of Mary. A large meditation hall whose main chamber is at clifftop level extends down to the foot of the cliff; the cross on the hill is visible many miles away. In addition to a church, there are several thousand feet of trails, including a trail of the Stations of the Cross, along which visitors may pass in contemplation through botanical gardens. The Grotto also features a full-service Conference Center, and a Gift Shop.


The Grotto was established in 1924 by Friar Ambrose Mayer, a native of Ontario, Canada, who was sent to the United States where he was a Servite pastor for the Archdiosese of Portland, Oregon.[3] Upon moving to Portland, Mayer found acreage located outside Northeast Portland that was at the time owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and had been put up for sale to be developed into residential property. Mayer made a downpayment of $3,000 and purchased the property in 1923.[3][4]A national campaign raised the balance of the funds needed to pay for the land.[5] Mayer envisioned The Grotto as a natural cathedral, and construction began in September 1923. A cave was carved out of the 110-foot basalt cliff, and a statue of Mary holding Jesus's crucified body was installed.[3] Several years later, a marble recreation of Michelangelo's Pietà was also installed. Three thousand people gathered for the first mass at the Grotto on May 29, 1924. In 1955, the Chapel of Mary was dedicated on the grounds, and in 1983 the Grotto was designated as a National Sanctuary.[3] The grounds of the Grotto include 62 acres[6] of pathways, forest, and an upper-level botanical garden situated above the cliff, which are accessed through an elevator built against the cliff wall.[7] The upper botanical gardens also provide expansive views of the Columbia River Valley, the Cascade Mountains, and Mount Saint Helens.[8]
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