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The Story of the Grotto

This beautiful mountain shrine devoted to Our Mother Mary attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world. It features one of the oldest American replicas of the Lourdes shrine in France, built about two decades after the apparition of Mary at Lourdes in 1858.

The Search for Freedom

In 1728, a group of Catholics wishing to find religious freedom left St. Mary's City, Maryland. The chief family of the group was the Elders, who settled in the Emmitsburg area with several others sometime after 1740. They called the valley "St. Joseph's Valley," nestled in the shelter of what they named "St. Mary's Mount."

More than a half century later, the area continued to provide a secure haven for Catholics. In 1805, the Rev. John DuBois, a refugee from France, settled here. He built St. Mary's on the Hill church in 1807 on the site of the present Grotto parking lot, and founded Mount St. Mary's College in 1808 on the slopes below. He later became bishop of New York.

A Trinity of Stewards

The Rev. DuBois loved St. Mary's Mountain. He found, high on this mountain, a natural amphitheater where nature "displayed itself in wild and picturesque beauty." Amid the wild flowers, a stream divided and flowed around a great oak, where a recessed grotto had formed under the trunk. Here he erected a crude cross, a symbol of the holy work he was undertaking. This was the original Grotto.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, founder of the Sisters of Charity, came to St. Mary's Mountain in 1809 and also found peace at the Grotto. She lived near the Grotto in a log cabin for six weeks until her home in the valley was completed, and attended Sunday Mass here throughout the remaining years of her life. She died in 1821 after a life of heroic charity for others and strong faith in God, and was declared a saint in 1975.

The Rev. Simon Brute, who later became the first bishop of Vincennes, Ind., was the third in a trinity of original stewards of the Grotto. He came to St. Mary's Mountain in 1812 and blessed the spot with his sense of aesthetics and work ethic. He loved nature, believing the Lord was with us in all aspects of creation. The work he led to clean and beautify the Grotto was his tribute to God's glory, and the paths he laid are the ones we walk today.

In the years following, many Mount St. Mary's collegians and seminarians, as well as other devout pilgrims, continued Rev. Brute's work of beautifying the Grotto for God's great glory.

The Grotto You See Today

In 1965, the Grotto was proclaimed a Public Oratory by Cardinal Shehan, archbishop of Baltimore. Monsignor Hugh J. Phillips was appointed its chaplain. Monsignor dedicated his life to Mount St. Mary's and became known as the "restorer of the Grotto."

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