Our Lady of the Snows was introduced to the midwest in 1941 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Fr. Paul Schulte, O.M.I., developed a special devotion to Our Lady of the Snows working in the Oblate missions and chose to build a small chapel in honor or her.
While devotion to Our Lady of the Snows grew, the search for a respected location in her honor began. The society found the ideal location in February 1958 and purchased 80 acres of farmland alongside the Mississippi River in western Illinois. Later that summer, the society purchased an additional twenty acres. All the work was finalized in August 1958.
It was crucial to the Shrine’s association to be a hallmark of modern architecture. The architect Emmet Layton worked toward intensifying the already natural beauty instilled within the Shrine to develop plants, shrubs, and flowers dispersed throughout the land.
This video of The Way Of Lights offers the viewer a multidimensional perspective. If one has seen The Shrine during the day, he or she misses out on the glowing lights that glorify the beauty encompassed in the evening. Visiting The Shrine, viewers get the opportunity to drive through the display of the coming of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, and events following. These visual representations create a deeper insight into the Catholic faith and Christianity as a whole.
Since the 1970s Our Lady of the Snows Shrine has created an immaculate light display. In order to truly understand its beauty, it is helpful to learn how these little lights became a decorative tradition in the homes of Americans throughout the country. In 1882, in a townhouse at 136 East 36th Street in New York City, Edward Hibberd Johnson had an idea that would change the way Americans decorated for Christmas forever. Possessing a luxurious mustache, this loyal lieutenant to Thomas Edison was a power player of his era: part engineer, part businessman, part Barnum. In 1871, Johnson hired Edison, then a 24-year-old inventor, as a consultant for the Automatic Telegraph Company, who fiddled around with a multitude of ideas and inventions. Originally during this time, Christmas trees were adorned with many candles. While they were beautifully festive, they were also extremely hazardous. Over at the shop, Johnson saw an opportunity. Setting up a tree by the street-side window of his parlor, Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and strung them together around it, and placed the trunk on a revolving pedestal, all powered by a generator.
A string of sixteen somewhat flame-shaped bulbs propped in brass sockets the size of shot glasses sold for a pricey $12 (about $350 in today’s money) in 1900. But in 1894 President Cleveland put electric lights on the White House tree, and by 1914, a 16-foot string cost just $1.75. The relatively affordable price led not only to popularity, but also led production to soar. By the 1930s, colored bulbs and cones were everywhere.
Today an estimated 150 million light sets are sold in America each year, adding to the tangled millions stuffed into boxes each January. They light 80 million homes and it all started with Johnson’s miracle on 36th Street.
The Lourdes Grotto is a sacred space at the Shrine that is open year round and showcased during the Way of Lights display in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This Grotto is a replica of the famed Lourdes Grotto in France where Our Lady appeared in 1858 to a young, peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous. During the Grotto construction, finding a method to keep the contours of the hillside while simulating the appearance of a rock cavern was a challenge for engineers. Eventually an idea was brought to the engineers’ attention and dirt was piled up in such a way as to form a mold for the cavern.
At the top of the grotto, a large star glows above the angels head and to the side many smaller stars twinkle creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for those wanting to say a prayer during the Way of Lights.
Another feature, the Church of Our Lady of the Snows, is not necessarily featured in the Way of Lights, but it does hold camel rides and hot chocolate for the thousands of seasonal visitors each year.
Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum, Inc., the designers of the Church, gave careful attention to creating a worship space that would serve the particular needs of those who visit the Shrine. The church opens to a tall chapel adorned with tapestries featuring religious figures. It was completed in 1990 and designed for an indoor worship space.
This is an excellent depiction of what people see as they navigate through The Shrine. It is a way to captivate them through the scenery with a bird’s eye view perspective. Since we only get bird’s eye perspectives in an airplane, watching this video carries the viewer through a series of images that create a dynamic perspective. If one were to visit The Shrine, they would conceptualize walking through it and not see the amount of land it partakes in or the surrounding environment from above. When one see’s a dynamic approach to the architecture and landscape, it becomes more than just an element one walks through, but a way to escape one angle and exceed the ambiance of another.
Researched and written by Jennifer O'Brien, Lexi Schaeffer, and Kathryn Turek.
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