Shrines hold a very special place in Catholic tradition – and in Christianity, in general. Since the very early days, shrines have served as sacred sites of pilgrimage, prayer, and devotion. Significant as they are for their religious meaning, most shrines are also relevant for their historical and cultural importance within the Christian tradition, but also for humanity as a whole, regardless of one’s own confession.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a shrine as “a church or other sacred place which, with the approval of the local Ordinary, is by reason of special devotion frequented by the faithful as pilgrims” (Cf. Canon 1230). “Ordinary” in this sense refers generally to the bishop.
Shrines often house relics, images, or statues of saints considered exceptional, and they are dedicated to the veneration of these holy figures. Pilgrims visit shrines to seek solace, spiritual growth, and to deepen their connection with God – often through the intercession of the saints, if said shrine is dedicated to honor a specific saint’s memory.
One of the most renowned shrines in the Catholic tradition is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. This shrine is dedicated to the Virgin Mary under her title as Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. Millions of pilgrims visit the basilica each year, making it one of the most visited Catholic shrines in the world. The tilma (that is, the cloak) of St. Juan Diego, imprinted with the miraculous image of Our Lady, is displayed at the shrine and draws countless faithful seeking her intercession.
Lourdes, France, is home to another famous, beloved Catholic shrine. The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes is on the site where St. Bernadette Soubirous experienced a series of Marian apparitions in 1858. Since then, the grotto has become a place of pilgrimage known for its healing waters, which many believe have miraculous properties.
The Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City is, in itself, a significant shrine due to its association with St. Peter, the first pope. Pilgrims from around the world come to this grand basilica to celebrate the faith and history of the Catholic tradition at its very heart.
The Catechism emphasizes the significance of shrines as places of special devotion. By designating a place as a shrine, the Church invites the faithful to gather there in a spirit of faith, to reflect upon the mysteries of said faith, and to deepen their relationship with God and with others.