[Insert meditative nature sounds here] That’s the auditory nirvana visitors are treated to when they step onto the grounds of The Grotto in Northeast Portland. The outdoor sanctuary offers space to reclaim inner peace amid a maelstrom of daily demands — just ask the 200,000+ people who seek out The Grotto and its soothing soul balm every year.
Officially called the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, the 62-acre campus is split into two parts: a lower level resting in the shadow of Rocky Butte, and an upper level perched atop a 110-ft basalt cliff on the butte’s northern face.
The lower level is open to the public year-round, free of charge. This is where you’ll find The Grotto’s centerpiece: an outdoor cathedral set into the base of the cliff featuring a replica of Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” A walking path winds through the lower woods, passing tranquil gardens, a visitor complex, an art gallery, a gift shop, and the Chapel of Mary.
For an admission fee, an elevator built into the side of the cliff takes visitors to the upper level, home to lush botanical gardens containing rhododendrons, roses, and a gurgling stream. Meandering trails take visitors to multiple shrines, the historic St. Anne’s Chapel, a sandstone monastery, and the Meditation Chapel featuring a rounded glass wall with panoramic views.
Father Ambrose Mayer, a priest in the Servite Order, bought the land (formerly used as a quarry) from the Union Pacific Railroad in 1923 with his life savings ($3,000) and the help of a national campaign backed by Pope Pius XI. Mayer established a Catholic sanctuary on the grounds to show his gratitude to God for sparing his mother after a complicated birth many years earlier. Three thousand people gathered for The Grotto’s first mass in front of the cavernous, freshly-carved shrine on May 29, 1924. It was designated as a national sanctuary in 1983.