Portland’s Grotto Sanctuary
By Wyatt Martin
Photos by Don Nelson
“Let this be a sanctuary of peace for all peoples of the earth and surely in this day a sanctuary is needed. Torn with differences, strife, and grief, the world needs sanctuary where the human spirit can seek peace and consolation.”
These were the words spoken by Archbishop Alexander Christie at the first mass of the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother – the Portland Grotto in Portland, OR. Three thousand people attended that first mass back in May of 1924 and over ten million guests have visited the National Sanctuary since then.
The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother or The Portland Grotto, is an internationally-recognized Catholic shrine located in northeast Portland, just two miles south of Portland International Airport. The shrine is located within a man-made cave at the base of a 110-foot cliff. Sitting atop a stone alter in the cave is a statue of Mary holding her son after the crucifixion.
Surrounding the shrine itself is the 64-acre sanctuary which is home to gardens, religious artwork, a chapel and a monastery. Somewhere between 200 and 300 thousand visitors come to the sanctuary annually.
The Portland Grotto was created by Father Ambrose Mayer in 1923 to fulfill a promise he made as a child. Father Mayer vowed that if his mother’s life was sparred during her second childbirth, he would someday take on a great work for the church. His mother and sister survived the birthing process and he never forgot that promise he made
Some years later, while serving as a pastor in the Portland area, Fr. Mayer found the rugged rock outcropping that was going to be sold as residential land. He used every last dime he had to put a $3,000 down payment on the $48,000 property.
Once the property was acquired, work began on the cave. Fr. Mayer and other volunteers helped to carve out the cavern in the basalt rock of the cliffs and completed the project in under a year.
To this day, visitors of all faiths come to this magnificent place to find sanctuary and peace. The grounds are open 9 a.m. – 8:30p.m. from Mother’s Day to Labor Day, with shortened hours in the winter. Mass is held at noon throughout the week, 8 AM on Saturdays and 10 AM on Sundays.
The shrine itself is open to the public, while the upper level gardens require a small, $5 fee for entry. There is a spectacular view of Portland from the upper level. Weddings and other special events are available at the location and can be arranged through the main office.
For more information see Portland Grotto.
If you find yourself in the Portland area, make sure to add the Portland Grotto, an astounding culmination of nature, faith and inner-piece to your travel itinerary.