Officially known as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, The Grotto is a 62-acre (25-hectare) Catholic shrine and botanical gardens. It is set on two levels with a high cliff face providing a natural divide between them.
Before it became an attraction for tourists and religious pilgrims, The Grotto site was a former quarry. It was transformed into shrine under the auspices of Fr. Ambrose Mayer, who saw the acreage as a “natural cathedral.”
When just a boy, Fr. Mayer watched his mother dying after giving birth. In his prayers to God to save her, Fr. Mayer promised to create a great work for the Catholic Church. His mother survived and The Grotto is his promise fulfilled. Work began in 1923, when a cave was carved into the cliff face. In 1946, Fr. Mayer installed a marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta above an altar in the cave, which is called Our Lady’s Grotto. It’s part of the Plaza Level, which covers almost 20 acres (8 hectares).
This level also includes the Welcome Center and Visitor Complex and the Stations of the Cross, which surround the Chapel of Mary. You are welcome to attend one of the daily masses in the chapel.
To climb the 110 feet (33 meters) up the cliff to the Upper Level, use the elevator, which has a fee. On the Upper Level you will find one of Portland’s largest green spaces. Walk the well-kept paths around garden beds filled with rhododendrons and native plants. Don’t miss the views over Colombia River Valley and the Cascades. On a clear day you will spot Mount St. Helens and possibly Mount Rainier in the distance.
The views are also seen through the glass walls of the architecture award-winning Meditation Chapel, which sits on the north face of the cliff.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, The Grotto transforms during the Festival of the Lights, a display incorporating over 500,000 lights, choral performances and puppet shows.
In addition to its scenic beauty, The Grotto operates as a center for those in need, offering counseling services, religious guidance and retreats. It’s open daily except for Thanksgiving Day and December 25.