By Carl Whitehill – Having moved around a lot after graduating from college, I get asked frequently whether I enjoy living in the Gettysburg area, especially since it seems as though I’ve finally settled down. I always respond the same way – that not only do I love living in the Gettysburg area, I enjoy the abundance of places – big and small – that are within close reach. The region itself is home to unique experiences that aren’t always within reach of people who live in other parts of the country.
Two of the more intriguing sites in the region are the National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton and the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, both in Emmitsburg, Md., a 15-minute drive from Downtown Gettysburg. These separate, but obviously similar, spiritual destinations are moving in many ways. I’ve always been drawn to locations that strike emotion. Learning is one thing. Reflecting is another thing. There’s no better feeling than being inspired and moved by the places we visit, and the shrine and grotto do just that. It’s a great place to visit with your friends and family – or even just yourself … which is what I did on a recent spring morning.
The Grotto of Lourdes is located on the campus of Mount St. Mary’s University just south of Emmitsburg, Md., signs will direct you back to the Grotto and once you’re there, you’ll need to park at the cemetery and walk up to the beginning of the site. The Grotto is adorned with statues of saints, benches for reflection, a chapel for prayer and the Stations of the Cross, marking Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven. The Grotto itself is near the end of the site and offers visitors a chance to pray – alone or amongst others.
Nearby, a calvary statue of Jesus on the cross stands over the Grotto and a waterfall flows below. Throughout the spring and early summer, the Grotto is also filled with colorful flowers, making the site not only one immersed with spirituality, but of beauty and peace. It’s truly a place at which I could spend hours, reading every sign and plaque, reflecting at every monument and just adoring the inspiration behind it all. That morning, I was alone, and had the place to myself. It was quiet, it was peaceful. During busier times, visitors can be seen walking the grounds, praying in the chapels and lighting candles in honor of loved ones. It’s truly a place of reverence, rejuvenation and reflection.
Nearby, the National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton is a place of history and devotion. Just down the hill from the Grotto and south of Emmitsburg, the Shrine features a museum, campus with buildings open to the public to learn more about the work of Elizabeth Ann Seton and why we remember her today. The basilica, however, is the centerpiece of the national shrine. It’s absolutely stunning and not only a monument to Elizabeth Ann Seton, but a holy place for the public to pray, worship and reflect.
Together, the Shrine and the Grotto are quiet spiritual landmarks tucked away from the Civil War battlefields of Gettysburg and the hustle and bustle of Frederick, Md., to the south. Spring is a time of rejuvenation and new beginnings. For me, and the thousands of others that visit these two sites, it’s also about devotion and reflections.
About the Author
A resident of Adams County, Pa., for seven years, Carl is still finding nooks and crannies of the Gettysburg countryside to tire out his two young – and energetic – boys. Always on the search for ways to keep his crazy family active and adventurous, Carl prefers to lace up his hiking boots over firing up the car for a ride, but opts for going out for ice cream over a cold beer any day. He lives in Littlestown, Pa., with his wife, Kim, and sons – Colin and Christian.