All Saint's and All Soul's at the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe

Dear Henry,

We had a bunch of hotel and airline points that were about to expire and, coupled with Orlando's push to bring in the tourists, now that many of the COVID travel restrictions have been lifted, it became very easy for me to schedule a trip to the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, around the solemnity of All Saint's Day.  I've always felt like any trip that comes together easily means that it is a trip you are supposed to take, and so, even though I'm still not sure how one "pilgrims", off I flew to Orlando to check out the shrine.

The concept for this basilica began in the early 1970s, after the completion of Disney World and the large influx of tourists that the theme park brought.  It was designed by the Architect firm of Rogers, Lovelock, and Fritz and is an adaptation of the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica. It would take nearly 15 years of fundraising before the ground was broken on August 22, 1990, on the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Completing the 2,000 seat church would take more than two and a half years, with the first mass not being held until January 31, 1993.  The building wouldn't be dedicated until August 22, 1993.  It would be elevated to a national shrine in 2004.

The shrine offers daily and weekend masses and reconciliation. It isn't a parish church and so, doesn't offer baptisms, marriages, and funerals. It also has, in addition to the main sanctuary, a Marian chapel. This small prayer chapel features several, stunning, museum quality paintings, a large mural/shrine for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the most amazing blue stained glass.

Actually all of the art (stained glass, sculpture, and paintings) at the basilica was amazing.  Pope Benedict XVI said " The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb "

There are a great many artistic arguments to be found here, including the very old (1640!) and very stunning 9'x6' oil on canvas painting called The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin by Bartolome Murillo.

Behind the altar is the adoration chapel and it contains the most beautiful wooden tabernacle shaped like a tree.  It was a very moving place to pray, while contemplating the Eurcharist set within the tree. It brought to mind the entire process of the Eucharist with one powerful image.

There isn't just one stunning piece in the main santuary to talk about.  

The crucifix is carved out of linden wood and placed against beveled glass panels.  It weighs  about 600 lbs. It has a modern/contextual feel to it and, unlike many crucifixes, portrays a very calm and relaxed Jesus. 

To the right of the altar is a Carrara marble statue of Mary and the Infant Jesus created by sculpture Jill Burkee and it is an incredibly moving piece as well. 

The stained glass windows and the stations of the cross paintings are enthralling and I must confess that I struggled to keep "eyes forward" during the masses I celebrated there.

I'm not sure, really, what I expected to happen though.  I didn't receive any personal revelations as I walked through the Rosary garden, although I was able to come to a sense of peace about the limitations my medical needs place upon me within the adoration chapel, as well as the need to be more insistent about my own care.

I also spent a fair amount of time in the Marian shrine and tried to come to peace with my feelings regarding my own mother. Those feelings are still a work in progress.

The basilica has a great gift shop, well stocked with rosarys and statues of Mary. The store also sells books regarding the art found in shrine and you can pick up CDs of the shrine's organist Peter Richard Conte, who is, in a word, fabulous.

Right now, masks are recommended in the main chapel (where social distancing is possible). Within the smaller Adoration and Marian shrines, masks are required. 

Of course, you don't need to be a Catholic (or even a Christian) to come to the basilica. It is open to everyone, Monday through Friday 8 to 5, Saturdays 10 to 7, and Sunday 7 to 2 and it is definitely worth checking out all of the artwork, even if you don't stay for a mass.

It's a great place to find some peace in a very busy area.

xoxo a.d. elliott