Located in Portland, Oregon’s Madison South neighborhood, the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, commonly referred to as the Grotto, is a 62-acre Catholic sanctuary, offering a convention center and a variety of public garden spaces along with regularly held mass services and public special events. The Grotto was the vision of Ambrose Mayer, who joined the Catholic Servite Order following his mother’s recovery from a near-death experience in childbirth, bringing with him a lifelong vision to create a sanctuary tribute to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In 1918, Mayer was assigned to a pastor position in Oregon under the Archdiocese of Portland, and in 1923, he was able to secure a former Union Pacific Railroad Company rock quarry site that was up for sale for the development of residential land with a $3,000 down payment. After a national fundraising campaign, ground was broken on the sanctuary in September of 1923, and in May of the following year, the site was opened with a formal mass for an attendance of 3,000, overseen by Archbishop Alexander Christie. The site’s chapel, designed by Portland architect L.L. Dougan, was dedicated in 1955, and in 1983, the site was designated as a National Sanctuary. In 2012, the site experienced significant vandalism, with several original statues damaged or destroyed, although all statues have since been restored.
Today, the Grotto is owned and maintained by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland, operated as a national Catholic shrine honoring the Virgin Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother. More than 10 million people have visited the site since its opening, and visitors of all religions and faiths are welcome to use the site as a public place for prayer, meditation, and reflection. The 62-acre facility is located along a 110-foot-high cliff, which provides views of the surrounding Columbia River Valley and Cascade Mountains areas, including nearby Mount Saint Helens.
The centerpiece of the Grotto is its Our Lady’s Grotto rock cave, carved into the cliff’s base, which showcases a life-sized replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà. More than a thousand feet of trails, including the Stations of the Cross trail, connect the site’s attractions, which are located both at the base and plateau of the cliff. Rhododendrons, fir trees, and other native Oregon plants are showcased in the facility’s botanical garden, located atop the cliff and accessible via an elevator. Religious artwork by various artists is also showcased throughout the botanical garden facility. A Meditation Hall and Servite Monastery features a clifftop main chamber and extends down the span of the cliff, featuring a large cross on its top which is visible from a significant distance.
Regular Catholic mass services are offered at the Grotto’s Chapel of Mary year-round on Sunday mornings, with a second noon service offered May through October outside on the plaza. Weekday mass services are also offered at noon, and a St. Peregrine Mass service is offered on the first Saturday of every monthe Easter and Christmas liturgies are offered throughout the holiday seasons, and a Sacrament of Reconciliation service is offered during Lent. Via Matris, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and special holy day masses are also offered throughout the year.
A Visitor Center serves as the entrance to the Grotto on the plaza level, offering a Grotto Gift Shop, opened in 1995. Catholic-themed books, gifts, and souvenirs are sold, along with access tickets to the Grotto’s upper level botanical gardens. All gift shop proceeds benefit the Grotto’s continuing ministries and programming. A Conference Center also offers classroom facilities for up to 100 participants and theater seating for up to 150, with full-service catering and audiovisual services offered for business conferences, workshops, and retreats. Complete meeting packages and transport services to area airports is also offered.
Ongoing Programs and Events
In addition to standard visitor admission, guided facility tours are offered for individuals and groups on weekends during the summer months. All tour groups meet at the facility’s Visitor Center and are led by volunteer docents who share anecdotes and history about the Grotto’s buildings, gardens, and artwork. Private group guided tours may also be scheduled for small groups and organizations of 10 or more with two weeks’ advance registration. The facility is fully handicap accessible for tour participants with disabilities, and a limited number of wheelchairs are available at the facility for patron use.
Continuing educational opportunities for religious officials and educators is offered through the Grotto’s Spirituality Program. A Grotto Concert Series is offered throughout the year, welcoming classical and popular music performers from throughout the Portland region. An annual Christmas Festival of Lights is also offered nightly in late November and throughout December, offering walk-through lighted experiences for families and children of all ages. More than 160 choral concerts are presented throughout the festival’s run, along with nightly puppet show performances and a live petting zoo for young visitors.
8840 NE Skidmore St, Portland, OR 97220, Phone: 503-254-7371