Places that Matter

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, St. Lucy's

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Scala Santa behind the grotto, Brendan Garrone
Scala Santa behind the grotto, Brendan Garrone
Grotto in winter, Brendan Garrone
Grotto, Brendan Garrone
Waterfall at the grotto, Brendan Garrone
Statue at the grotto, Elena Martinez
Grotto in summer, Elena Martinez
Scala Santa, Elena Martinez
Scala Santa, Elena Martinez
Scala Santa, Elena Martinez
Pilgrimage site at Roman Catholic Church
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Place Matters Profile

By Brendan Garrone

Stories regarding the renowned healing waters of Lourdes, France have been around for centuries, but for thousands of people each year Lourdes is just a subway ride away. Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the corner of Bronxwood and Mace Avenues in the Bronx was built in 1939 as a replica of the French shrine and has been a source of inspiration and solace for the faithful during New York City’s toughest times. From prayers of safety for the armed forces in World War II to an interfaith sanctuary of worship during the events of September 11th, 2001, the grotto has played an important role in the spiritual lives of thousands of New Yorkers, as well as becoming a site of pilgrimage for believers in the grotto’s healing waters.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, or “Lourdes of America” as it is commonly referred to, is part of St. Lucy’s Church which was built in 1937 after Monsignor Pasquale Lombardo was commissioned by the diocese on June 24th, 1927 to begin a new parish in the area. Sources suggest Monsignor Lombardo was a respected leader of the parish who often had to pay out of pocket to pay the church’s bills, using money he made translating Italian prayer books. After traveling to the famous grotto in Lourdes, a French town in the Pyrenean foothills which was home to eighteen sightings of the Virgin Mary beginning with Bernadette Soubirous’ vision on February 11th, 1858, the Monsignor set out to build a replica of the Lourdes Grotto on the church grounds.

The grotto was completed in 1939 at a cost of 10,000 dollars. Monsignor Lombardo hoped it would provide parishioners and outside visitors the possibility of experiencing the intimate and spiritual nature of the Lourdes, France grotto without making the transatlantic pilgrimage. Gated within the churchyard, though easily visible from the street, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto is comprised of an amalgam of stones stacked together forming a “cave” some thirty feet in height. Steps lead up to an altar filled with candles, which are lit by the visitors after a prayer. Behind this, a large memorial plaque is affixed to the back wall with a list of names of some of the parish’s deceased. Opposite the grotto are a few benches providing an area for those who wait to collect water or have just finished and now sit for some quiet prayer or reflection. A small chapel complete with various statues and pictures of the Virgin Mary is immediately adjacent to the grotto where many visitors go to continue their prayer. Also in the chapel is a small giftshop where one can purchase various religious items including candles to use at the grotto, in addition to contributing some income for its maintenance. Each Sunday, the bell at St. Lucy’s is rung, creating the same D natural tone as the church in Lourdes, France. The grotto is open daily, morning to sunset, though may be closed during inclement weather.