Like a jewel that has been coated by dust or dulled by time, the small chapel of Monte Cassino Shrine in St. Meinrad, Indiana, was showing the effects of time and use.
As a quiet place of prayer and beauty, Monte Cassino Shrine has been popular since monks and students first used the area for recreation and solitude, shortly after the monastery was founded in the 1850s.
Named after the abbey in Italy founded by St. Benedict, Monte Cassino is located on a hill a short distance from Saint Meinrad Archabbey. As early as 1857, an image of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception was attached to an oak tree in the manner of wayside shrine.
Later, it was decided a permanent shrine was needed. The current building was built of sandstone discovered in a nearby quarry. The chapel was dedicated in 1870, and a wooden statue of Our Lady was placed on the altar.
The shrine has a long and storied history, beginning with a smallpox epidemic that hit the town, the abbey and its school during the winter of 1871. The first cases of smallpox broke out before Christmas. Several in the village had died and, during the holidays, four persons became infected in the monastery and seminary.
As more cases of the disease were discovered, the worst was feared. On January 5 of that year, all the students who could walk went on a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino Shrine to begin a novena seeking Our Lady's help. Once the novena was begun, not a single case of smallpox broke out.
In thanksgiving, Saint Meinrad students still make a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino each year around January 13, the final day of the novena.
Last year, a benefactor offered to help restore the shrine to its former glory. With the chapel approaching its 150th anniversary in 2020, the jewel atop Monte Cassino Hill is now restored and ready for many more years of use.
Most notably, the paintings on the ceiling and walls of the chapel were returned to their original beauty by art restoration specialists. During 2016 and 2017, improvements were also made in these areas:
- The chapel's exterior was tuck pointed and the foundation was stabilized
- Heating, air conditioning and ventilation were installed, both for visitor comfort and to keep the artwork on the walls from deteriorating
- More interior lighting was added
Enhancements to the Grounds
- New sandstone patio and benches
- Prayer garden
- New landscaping, fencing and stone path
- Refurbished benches
- Newly painted altar
- Votive candle stands were cleaned and restored
- Pews were cleaned
- Front doors were repainted and missing stone finials were replaced
The restored shrine was blessed on October 1 and is again open to visitors who wish to view the historical structure, enjoy the grounds or say a prayer. The shrine is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central Time.
If you're planning a visit, consider staying at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Guest House & Retreat Center. And Monkey Hollow Winery is located in Saint Meinrad as well.
To find the shrine, follow Indiana 162 east through St. Meinrad. Look for the entrance sign on your left.