Seeing Shrine Mont - Virginia's Holy Hike in Orkney Springs Virginia

Dear Henry,

The other day, I noticed a place called the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration on Google Maps. In the reviews, someone had written that it was the tallest Cathedral in the world, and so, feeling up for an adventure, Fish and I drove the two-and-a-half hours to Orkney Springs, Virginia, to check it out. 

The Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration is an open-air cathedral built in the foothills of the Great North Mountain. It was made in 1925 from local stones hand-carried by local residents and their horses. The Cathedral is the centerpiece of the Shrine Mont retreat center. It does have a tall bell tower, but I don't know why the review called it the tallest. It wasn't that big. The church is, however,  rustically beautiful and contains a little pond and a nice little prayer labyrinth nearby. We also noticed they had a trail for Stations of the Cross leading up the mountain. The sign mentioned that the hike was 3/4 a mile, and despite not having brought water with us, we decided that we would be fine and began to hike the Stations.

It is an absolutely grueling hike.  

The day we went, it was mid-afternoon and in the mid-eighties. The hike is really steep and just about beat us both up. Which is rather fitting when you think about it. The Stations of the Cross is a prayer mediation based upon the Via Dolorosa, a Processional that meditates on the challenges Jesus encountered during his walk to Calvary. Until now, the Stations I have walked have been either in an air-conditioned church or a nicely manicured garden on a relatively level trail. Shrine Mont's Stations are not at all like that. It was steep, hot, and exhausting. We were dying of thirst and had, having put off lunch to see the shrine, starving. And while this climb was nowhere near as brutal as the walk Our Lord made, it did occur to me, several times during the hike, how physically challenging His walk really must have been.  

When we finally reached the end/top and climbed the final fire tower to the cross and the stunning view of the valley below, I was puzzled that stations ended with a standard cross instead of a crucifix.  
In fact, I had wondered a couple of times while exploring the Cathedral and on the walk about the lack of Holy Family images and the absence of icons and statuary. I assumed they must be too hard to keep up out of doors.

The way down went much faster, and we took a moment to rinse our faces and get a drink from one of the natural springs at the base of the trail before heading to the car.

That's when we finally saw a sign that said, "Welcome to Shrine Mont, Retreat Center for the Episcopal Diocese Of Virginia." It suddenly became clear why there were no statues of the Blessed Mother anywhere. Episcopalians don't revere the Virgin Mary in the same way that Catholics do and generally eschew icons and statuary.

However, I've got to admit, the Episcopalians don't fool around with their Via Dolorosa. That was the most physically challenging Station meditation I've ever done.

xoxo a.d. elliott

P.S. Check out the video tour of the Stations here:


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at, you can also read her book reviews at and US military biographies at

Her online photography gallery can be found at


Like my page? Please consider supporting my work by visiting my sponsors, my webshop, or by buying me a cup of coffee!