Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pilgrimage Sites in the Saint Louis Region

A REPORTER for the Chicago Tribune requested a list of Catholic pilgrimage sites in the Saint Louis area. I am hardly an authority on the subject, but because I think some people may be interested, following are some sites which I think may be worthy destinations for the pilgrim. If anyone has any additional suggestions, especially in the Metro-East area of Illinois, I would be happy to add to this list. I would also be interested in particular devotions that may be held in parish churches in the area.

Certainly the Shrine of Saint Rose Phillipine Duchesne, in Saint Charles, Missouri, ought to be included because her relics are entombed there. Also of interest is the Old Saint Ferdinand Shrine, in nearby Florissant. Here you can see Saint Duchesne's bedroom, a closet under the staircase, which is filled with prayer petitions from pilgrims.

The Old Cathedral in downtown Saint Louis, under the Gateway Arch, dates from 1832. This was once the Cathedral church for half of the United States, and I've heard that it is one of the most highly indulgenced churches in the region, making it a good pilgrimage destination. Very many prominent clergy were ordained here, including perhaps some who are subject to canonization, although I would have to check this. As it is located in downtown Saint Louis, there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, sports, and nightlife nearby.

The New Cathedral is a popular pilgrimage and tourist destination and is one of the finest cathedrals in the United States. It is located in the Central West End, which is perhaps the most cosmopolitan neighborhood in the city, with plenty of dining and hotels.

The Shrine of Saint Joseph in downtown Saint Louis is the only Baroque church in the Archdiocese, and is a popular pilgrimage church, as well as having a breathtaking interior. This was the site of the only Vatican-authenticated miracle in the midwest, which led to the canonization of Saint Peter Claver. The church offers monthly devotions to Padre Pio.

Saint Francis de Sales Oratory in the City of Saint Louis is becoming a popular pilgrimage destination; it offers the traditional Latin liturgy and is known for its excellent musical accompaniment to the Mass. In particular a major relic of Saint Prosper of Aquitane is venerated here: he is known for the phrase "lex orandi, lex credendi", meaning ‘the law of prayer is the law of faith’, which is reflected in how the Oratory's liturgy is beautifully and devoutly celebrated.

Saint Mary of Victories Church, just south of the Gateway Arch, venerates Blessed Francis Seelos, a Redemptorist who preached here. A Redemptorist church in the City, Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, is known for its famous shrine to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows is located close to downtown Saint Louis, in Belleville, Illinois. This is an extremely popular pilgrimage destination, and is notable for its elaborate pre-Concilliar Modernist architecture. Nearby is the Old Holy Family log church, dating from 1799, and built in the French colonial style; this church offers a weekly Latin Mass.

The Saint Louis Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in Saint Louis County. It has a unique Modernist church, and an active parish life. The monks are at the forefront of the current liturgical renewal, and Gregorian Latin chant or English chant can be heard here several times a day.

Visitation/SaintAnn Shrine has an annual novena to Saint Ann, mother of the Virgin Mary. The Discalced Carmelite Monastery has an annual novena to the Virgin, under her title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Who knows what saints may be buried at Calvary Cemetery in Saint Louis? Here are very many graves of Catholic religious and those of the early founders of Saint Louis. The adjacent secular Bellefontaine Cemetery has the famous Wainwright tomb.

The events that inspired the 1973 film The Exorcist took place in Saint Louis. Notable among these sites include the Jesuit White House Retreat, and Saint Francis Xavier Church, where an apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel was seen by the exorcists. The White House is available for spiritual retreats, while the church is located on the campus of Saint Louis University in midtown Saint Louis. While at SLU, I would visit the Saint Louis University Art Museum and particularly the Collection of the Western Jesuit Missions, and Pere Marquette Gallery, which has extensive Catholic art.

Much Catholic art can be found at the Saint Louis Art Museum, although the museum is undergoing expansion and much of the collection is now in storage. The museum is in Forest Park, which has a number of other cultural institutions, including the Zoo, History Museum, Science Center, Municipal Opera, and golf courses.

Père Jacques Marquette, the earliest European explorer of the area, has been proposed as a candidate for canonization, however, devotion to him is not particularly strong in Saint Louis, and I don't know of any church or shrine hereabouts where he may be venerated; however, I am mostly ignorant of the subject and may be wrong. There is a park with his name nearby, though. There is more Saintly veneration of him in the nearby Illinois dioceses of Belleville and Springfield.

The tomb of the Venerable Felix de Andreis can be found at Saint Mary's of the Barrens Church in Perryville, in the far southern part of the Archdiocese. The cause for his canonization is open, and there is some interest in this holy man in the Saint Louis neighborhood of Carondelet, where he founded a chapel in the early days. Besides having the tomb of a Venerable, Saint Mary's of the Barrens is otherwise a remarkable church in itself, and is a pilgrimage destination, containing a shrine of the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception.

The chapel of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet contains the relics of a number of Roman martyrs; tours of the Motherhouse are available twice a month. This neighborhood of Saint Louis contains a large number of historic buildings.

Also in Carondelet was a Jesuit mission to the Kaskaskia tribe in 1700-1703. While a visitor won't see anything obvious here relating to the mission, it is an archaeological site, and it was the first settlement of Europeans in the Saint Louis. This mission to the Kaskaskia survived the centuries, and it is now the Immaculate Conception parish in the town of Kaskaskia, Illinois. The town is located within a geographical oddity: due to a change in the course of the Mississippi River, Kaskaskia is now located on the western side of the river, and access is from the town of Saint Mary's, Missouri. It is also the site of the "Liberty Bell of the West", which has some Revolutionary War history. The Illinois side of the river has a number of French colonial historical attractions including Fort de Chartres and Fort Kaskaskia.

In this area, I would visit Sainte Genevieve; it has a large church that was originally built to be a cathedral, and features a large collection of Saints' relics for veneration. The town of Sainte Genevieve is old, and has structures dating back to the late 1700s, in the French colonial style. This town has a lot to see for the tourist.

Further inland, the Old Lead Belt district has much French history, and up until the 1980s there were still perhaps a thousand people living there who spoke French as their native tongue. This is in the Ozarks and is quite scenic, and suitable for tourists. Saint Joachim Church in Old Mines is the spiritual center of the area.

West of Saint Louis is the "Missouri Wine Country", which offers great scenery, food, and wine. Hereabouts is the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Starkenburg, which is a pilgrimage destination, especially for healing. There are also a number of beautiful older churches in the area. Also worth visiting is the Black Madonna Shrine, located in the Ozarks near Saint Louis.

My photography of a number of these places is found in the book Catholic St. Louis: A Pictorial History.

A note on pilgrimages: the desire to go on pilgrimage is rooted in human nature, and so we see the phenomena of this kind of travel throughout the world and in all times in history. The value of a pilgrimage is limited by the amount of love or charity found in the pilgrim. Historically, there were many abuses in pilgrimages, and the tendency now is to see them as merely religious-themed vacations; however, we must not fall into the trap of excessive spiritualism so commonly found today, denying the real good that can come from pilgrimage. Please pray for me, a pilgrim in this world, that I may increase in charity.


  1. Thanks Mark for your excellent suggestions.

  2. Good work. Probably time for an organized tour. One correction: Holy Family date is 1699.

    Emily H.

  3. omomma,

    The church was founded in 1699, but it burned down and was replaced in 1799.

  4. Nice write up. I am not sure of particular saint venerations in Bville diocese, either. St. Peter's Cathedral in downtown Bville is an impressive traditional Cathedral. They are prepared for tourists.

    While the Shrine amphitheater is architecturally hideous, the Shrine grounds are wonderful for pilgrimages. Weekday masses at newer boxy church. Plenty of outdoor walking, meditating on mysteries, stations, Marian grottos, etc.

  5. We are still fairly new to the STL area, and I was so excited to find your list! Thank you for compiling it!