Cave of Candles
Notre Dame's Grotto / by Dorothy V. Corson

The First Church and Main Building -- 1866

On May 31, 1866 the Archbishop of Baltimore, Martin J. Spalding offered prayers over a new 12-foot statue [smaller and painted not gilded] of the Blessed Virgin under the title of the Immaculate Conception. The statue was placed on a pedestal atop the building's wooden dome, clad with tin sheeting and painted white. A contemporary guidebook reported it was "surrounded by a light and graceful belvedere, whence a view of great extent displays the panorama of prairie scenery, and whose lofty and protected platform serves as a landmark by day."(19)

After the Our Lady of Sacred Heart statue was solemnly blessed, the two feet six inch crown created for the twelve foot statue was taken by Sorin, on August 30, 1866, to be blessed by the Pope. The request was honored and the crown blessed by Pope Pius IX on September 18, 1866. However, upon Sorin's return, it was decided that the crown was too perishable to be left to the elements and a decision was made not to use it as originally intended. The statue was never crowned; instead, the crown was placed in the college parlor to be viewed by the public.

On his way to Rome to have the crown blessed by the Pope, Father Sorin wrote about Mary and the dedication in a letter from Europe. It was dated August 29, 1866, and published in the Ave Maria:

I was indeed very happy to hear repeatedly, since I left home, of the visible evidences of protection which Notre Dame and Saint Mary's continue to receive from Our Lady of Sacred Heart. I knew that after all we tried to do for her on the 31st of May [the dedication], she would in return give us new proofs that she notices every effort to honor her. The memory of that solemnity is so deeply engraved on my mind, that my memory could serve as a cliche fifty years hence, were I to live so long. It follows me everywhere; and whenever I kneel before a shrine of Mary, I love to present that pious and immense assembly, gathered from every quarter of the States, that every one of them may be blessed for his or her share of devotedness on that day for the glory of the Holy Mother of God.(20)

The first Sacred Heart Church, built in 1848, was replaced with a new one in 1871. The 1866 Main Building, which was destroyed by fire in 1879, was replaced by the present Main Building with its larger (golden) dome and statue built in 1879.

<< back | Notre Dame's Grotto | next >>