A Marian Shrine or church is generally attributed to a site where an apparition of the Virgin Mary has supernaturally appeared. Many of these sites then become places of Pilgrimage for religious people wishing to pray at the site of such apparitions.
There are of course thousands of these sites across Europe, many of which are considered genuine in the eyes of the church and many that are not.
The ones given full church dispensation will then become venerated in the eyes of the church and a shrine and / or a church built in the town of the apparition to deem the site a place of holy significance, which then becomes a site of mass pilgrimage.
However, not all pilgrimage sites are those of Marian sightings, some are simply the places of birth or death of certain saints or religious leaders, or a place that displays certain historical or religious artifacts.
There are five major Pilgrimage sites within Europe and it is these five that I will describe here in this article.
image courtesy of Preacherdoc, wikimedia commons.
OUR LADY OF LOURDES, FRANCE.
Europe's most iconic holy shrine and place of pilgrimage is Lourdes, situated in Midi - Pyrenees in the south of France.
The spa town attracts over five million visitors who come to drink or bathe in the holy water of an underground spring situated there.
On the 11th of February 1853 a 14 year old peasant girl named Bernadette Sobirous was out walking with her sisters when she reportedly saw the apparition of a lady in the Cave of MassaBielle a few miles outside the town of Lourdes.
During the following year 17 more people witnessed what they thought to be the same lady at the same site.
Pope Pious IX venerated the site in 1862 and a cathedral was built in it's honour in 1870 and later consecrated in 1879.
Disliking the attention she was recieving from the media in Lourdes, Bernadette joined a convent in the town of Nevers in Bourgogne, central France, where she remained until her death in 1879 aged 35.
Her body has been exumed three times over the years in order to verify her rights to canonisation , which were allowed, and she is now buried at Saint Bernadette's Chapel, at the Mother House in Nevers.
Image courtesy of Quadell, wikimedia commons.
OUR LADY OF FATIMA, OUREM, PORTUGAL.
The shrine and basilica of Fatima in the town of Ourem, Leiria in central Portugal is considered to be the second largest pilgrimage site in Europe with over two million visitors a year.
In 1817 three shepherd children witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary on the 13th day of six consecutive months, whilst out tending their sheep.
Owing to these events a shrine and basilica were erected in the town which were consecrated in 1958.
The tombs of the three children, Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Lucia Santos are all situated within the basilica.
Brother and sister Jacinta and Francisco died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919 / 1920 and Lucia died in 2005.
Image courtesy of Moi - Meme, wikimedia commons.
SAINT GIOVANNI BATTISTA, TURIN, ITALY.
The church of John the Baptist in Turin, Piedmont, Italy is the home of the Turin Shroud, a cloth reputedly believed to bear the imprint of the body of Jesus Christ.
The church was built between 1491 and 1498 with the royal chapel containing the shroud, built between 1668 and 1694.
Although not a Marian church, the church is a place of pilgrimage due to the thousands of people wishing to view the shroud.
The city sees over two million visitors to the church every year.
Image courtesy of Paul Cowen, wikimedia commons.
BASIICA OF OUR LADY QUEEN OF IRELAND, KNOCK, IRELAND.
Situated in Knock, County Mayo, Connact, Ireland, the shrine and basilica of Our Lady was built between 1967 and 1976 to replace the former John the Baptist church there, after a revelatory sighting in the town in the 19th century, has seen more than 1.5 million pilgrims to the site every year.
On the night of the 21st of August 1879 several people of all ages witnessed the apparition of the Virgin Mary, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.
Much scepticism has surrounded the sightings over the years, but when in 1979 during the centenary celebrations, a visit by Pope John Paul II culminated in him bestowing a Papal Gold Rose upon the site, the town became a place of mass pilgrimage overnight.
Since then, accommodation for pilgrims have been built and the small, local airport turned into an international air terminus in order to cater for all it's visitors.
image courtesy of KB, wikimedia commons.
JASNA GORA MONESTARY, CZESTOCHOWA, POLAND.
The monastery at Czestochowa ( pronounced chen sto ho va ) is the holiest site in Poland.
The monastery there was founded by Pauline monks from Hungary in 1382 and has been a place of pilgrimage for over 600 years.
The monks of Jasna Gora, which means illuminated mount, were reputedly saved by the Black Madonna when the monastery was held in siege from Swedish invaders during the 17th century.It is believed that the Black Madonna is widely venerated and credited with many miracles.
The site has proved to be a symbol of hope for thousands of visiting pilgrims from across Europe to the southern Polish town.
OTHER NOTABLE SITES INCLUDE ;
Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany - site of the Passion Plays.
Selcuk, Mugla,Turkey - site of the Virgin Mary House, where John the Baptist took Mary in her final days.
Westminster Abbey, London, UK - site of the tomb of King and saint, Edward the Confessor.
Assisi, Italy - birthplace of St Francis, founder of the Franciscan order of monks.
Isle of Iona, Scotland - site of the monastery of Irish saint, St Columba who brought Christianity to Scotland.
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT PILGRIMAGE TOURS ;