A Guide to The Grotto in Portland, Oregon

A sanctuary of natural beauty, prayer, and peace lies in Portland’s The Grotto, which sits approximately 62-acre. It is a place of serene and solitude, attracting more than 300 000 people in a year, usually for spiritual fulfilment. In some cases, people call the Grotto the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. The Grotto promotes inclusivity and welcomes visitors of all faiths and cultures seeking a place of meditation and prayer.

What is the history of The Grotto?

The Grotto in Portland

The creation of this vast sanctuary started with Father Ambrose Mayor. Upon joining the Servite Order, Father Mayer was the first Servite pastor assigned in the Archdiocese of Portland. During his stay in the city, he found a privately-owned, untamed, rugged wilderness. This ignited his will to build a suitable tribute to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which was his childhood promise.

The vacant lot was privately owned but was up for sale. Eventually, in September 1923, the construction began starting with the carving of the cave building of the stone altar. Moreover, on May 29, 1924, The Grotto had three thousand people during the first mass. Besides the first mass, they also held a dedication to the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. And by 1983, The Grotto became a National Sanctuary.

Where is The Grotto?

The Grotto sits atop a Northeast Portland Cliff called Rocky Butte. With its colorful rhododendrons, fir trees, and other native plants, The Grotto is an inviting and beautiful destination for everyone. Besides the world-renowned Catholic shrine, the area also houses botanical gardens and gift shops. This makes it an ideal destination for people of all ages.

The things to do and see at The Grotto

People participating in weddings, school field trips, and pilgrimages are just some of the usual visitors who flock to The Grotto. However, with the area’s vast space, one will have their hand full in exploring this destination.

Explore the gardens

Gardens in Portland Oregon

Discover the wonders at The Grotto’s gardens, which spread across the area and are divided into the upper and lower levels. Each division has its charming attractions that are worth visiting.

Upper Level

  • The Chapel of Mary houses warm marble walls, woodwork from Korina, floors from Arizona sandstone, Swedish marble, murals, mosaics, and grateful statues. People can also pray here as the chapel can accommodate approximately 600 people.
  • The Grotto is about thirty feet deep, thirty feet wide, and close to fifty feet high. Out of the face of the cliff lies, The Grotto was carved out in 1923. Inside the cave is a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà. Meanwhile, the Carrara marble made the Virgin Mother’s statue holding Jesus in her arms.
  • The Stations of the Cross is also another designation inside The Grotto, especially during the Lenten season. The fourteen stations stand around trees, ferns, and flowers. Furthermore, these were built along two rising paths at the cliff’s base.

Lower Level

Church Grotto Portland Oregon

  • There are hundreds of excellently carved statues in The Grotto. Most statues are made from granite, marble, wood, bronze, fiberglass, and polyester. A few of them include St. Francis of Assisi’s bronze image, St. Joseph, and the child Jesus made from marble and wood sculptures.
  • The meditation chapel rises from the north side of Rocky Butte. The founders built this area to honor the memory of Marilyn Moyer. It’s not only a venue for meditation as visitors can also experience a panoramic view of Mt. St. Helens and the Columbia River. Furthermore, on clearer days, Mt. Rainier is also visible here.
  • Besides statues, the place also offers various architecture and views of different shrines.
  • The Peace Garden was Henry J. Casey’s generous gift in memory of Margueritte, his sister. The area covers about one and a half acres incorporating the Mysteries of the Rosary. There is a large pond and a flowing stream to make you calm and relaxed while strolling the winding paths.
  • The Monastery is where the Servite Friars live. It can accommodate up to twelve people. What’s interesting about this building is its sandstone rock exterior from Washington State.
  • The Rose Garden is a haven for visitors who are into flowers and gardening. Friars and visitors alike enjoy the sweet scent of colorful roses. The garden continues to expand with the help of the generous donors during Mother’s Day, who grew rose bushes in honor of their mothers.
  • Anne’s Chapel is a small chapel-like building. Initially, the founders built the chapel in 1934 to house the Blessed Sacrament at the time of the first International Marian Congress in the US. Today, it houses numerous reproductions of Madonna paintings worldwide.
  • Via Matris, which some call the Way of Our Sorrowful Mother, has 34 excellent wood carvings made by Professor Heider of Pietralba.
  • The labyrinth in The Grotto is a replica of one in France’s Chartres Cathedral. Initially, visitors use the area for a mini-pilgrimage for those who cannot go to the Holy Land. Now it also serves as a meditation and contemplation site.

Spring Alleluia Concert Series

The Grotto brings talented choirs together for a Free Concert Series from around the city. These concerts usually happen on Saturdays and Sundays, depending on the schedule. Enjoy some good music while strolling along the area.

Christmas Festival of Lights

Christmas Festival of Lights

Celebrate the holiday season with The Grotto’s Festival of Lights. The event typically happens in December, nearing Christmas Day. In fact, it features about 150 indoor concerts, Biblical performances, and living history.

Some even tag the Festival of Lights as the most significant Christmas choral event in the US. Lit Christmas trees, a life-sized nativity scene, and about 500 000 bulbs will fill the area with Christmas and holiday vibes. However, remember that it can get too crowded as the festival gathers about 60 000 visitors yearly.

Weddings at the Grotto

Weddings at the Grotto Portland

What can be more fitting than holding a wedding in one of Portland’s iconic destinations? The spacious and aesthetic look of The Grotto indeed gives the wedding an excellent atmosphere. Typically, the place celebrates a Catholic wedding, opening two areas inside as wedding venues. You can be outside the Plaza or inside the Chapel of Mary. Furthermore, outdoor weddings usually happen between June and September. Meanwhile, outside those months, all other weddings will be at the Chapel of Mary.

School Field Trips at the Grotto

Besides meditations, weddings, and pilgrimages, The Grotto offers educational excursions for students. The activities and content include the following:

  • Devotions and catholic prayer at The Grotto
  • The Mysteries of the Rosary
  • Praying at the Grove of St. Joseph
  • Stories and inspirations of several Saints are depicted inside The Grotto
  • Plant names and their religious significance
  • Mary our Mother, shown in Culture and Art
  • The Via Matris – the Seven Sorrows of Mary prayer

See the flowers bloom

Whether you love flowers, are into gardening, or just want to see colorful flowers, you will enjoy The Grotto’s gardens. There are dozens of flower and tree species that bloom into pretty rainbow colors all year round. Different plants and flowers bloom in a specific month. Some of the flowers and plants you can see in The Grotto gardens include Camellia, Deer and Licorice ferns, Japonica, Daffodil, and many more.

Attend a mass

The Grotto does not require visitors to wear facemasks. However, they are optional. This means that everyone is encouraged to decide what’s best for them.

  • The Chapel of Mary hosts Sunday masses at 10 AM and 12 noon. If weather permits, the Grotto Plaza will be the mass venue during the warmer months.
  • People visiting from Mondays through Saturdays can still attend masses every noon. Filipino masses are held every first and third Sunday of every month at 2 PM. Additionally, those who want to hear the mass in Spanish happen every second and fourth Sunday of every month at 2 PM.

How to get there?

The Grotto is just minutes away from Portland International Airport and downtown Portland. TriMet Transit riders and visitors visiting the destination can take #12 east or the #72 northbound heading to Sandy Boulevard.

Hours of Operation

Remember that The Grottos opens daily except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Thanksgiving. The schedule might vary due to some circumstances. However, here are the admission hours inside The Grotto:

Summer hours (April 1 to Sept. 30)

  • Monday – 12 PM to 7 PM
  • Tuesday to Sunday – 10 AM to 7 PM

Winter hours (Oct. 2 to March 31)

  • Monday – 12 PM to 4 PM
  • Tuesday to Sunday – 10 AM to 4 PM

Tips for visiting the Grotto

Since the place nurtures peace, meditation, and serenity, most friars would always advise giving yourself plenty of time to appreciate the natural setting. Bask in the beauty of nature, architecture, and sculptures. There’s no rush when inside The Grotto. Additionally, learn the religious significance of various displays as you stroll along winding paths.

You can take as much time as you want. An hour or more is perfect. Do not forget to wear comfortable shoes and bring a camera with you, as every corner offers spectacular views.


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