CAREY - The Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation on Clay Street in this village is a Catholic religious site, but the landmark also is significant for its history, its architecture and its stories of healing.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Franciscan Friars offered public tours of the church. About 50 people attended the event Sunday. Father John Stowe said the tours are offered every two years.
Stowe gave a brief history of the shrine, explaining Ohio settlers from Luxembourg brought with them their Catholic faith. The people of that city had become devoted to the mother of Jesus during the bubonic plague in the 17th century and placed an image of Mary in a shrine on the edge of town. Pilgrims who worshipped at the shrine experienced favors and miraculous cures.
The congregation in Carey began as St. Edward Mission with Father Joseph Gloden as its first pastor. Gloden obtained a replica of statue of Our Lady of Consolation made by an unknown artist in Luxembourg. Nicholas Warnement of Frenchtown traveled to Europe to bring the wooden figure of Mary holding the child Jesus to Ohio. The heads are carved and painted, but the body is a plain block of wood that requires a dress to cover it.
At first, the statue was housed in St. Nicholas Church at Frenchtown. In 1875, a procession carried the statue from there to the mission church in Carey, which was rededicated to Our Lady of Consolation. During the procession, a rainstorm pelted the area, but the marchers and the statue remained dry. News of that miraculous phenomenon drew many pilgrims to the statue's new place of residence.
Father Florian Tiel said his grandfather had participated in the procession and witnessed some of the unusual happenings that day. One of them was a young girl, age 6 or 7, who saw the procession passing by her home. After she waved at the statue, her deformed arm was healed. Recently, the shrine received a letter from a woman who had been treated for cancer in Columbus. After visiting the shrine 36 years ago, her doctors declared she was cured. The letter said she is planning a pilgrimage to the basilica this year to give thanks for being restored to health.
In the lower basilica, visitors can see a collection of crutches, braces, canes, eye glasses and other artifacts left behind by people who were made whole and were able to leave the church without them.
One of the largest is a wicker stretcher left by a man from Lima. On his first pilgrimage, his blindness was cured. On the second, his paralysis disappeared. On display are photos of those who were healed and letters describing how their prayers were answered.
Reports of these events have kept pilgrims of all nationalities coming to the shrine. The original shrine church was too small to accommodate large crowds; consequently, that building was moved across the street in 1902. Construction of the larger church began in 1907, and the lower church was finished in 1909.
Brother Randall Kin, who led the tours of the upper basilica, said the term "basilica" indicates a place that attracts many pilgrims, not the size of the church. The Carey site is considered a minor basilica, one of 73 in the United States. People who cannot travel to St. Peter's in Rome, Italy, still can receive blessings by making a pilgrimage to a minor basilica. Kin explained a pilgrimage is intended to be a special journey of faith, not a vacation.
The Conventual Franciscan Friars were assigned to the shrine on a trial basis in 1912 to observe the spiritual activity at the site. The order recently celebrated 100 years of its presence in Carey. The statue of Our Lady of Consolation was moved to the lower basilica in 1918. The upper basilica was built in the 1920s.
Stowe told how the statue was stolen in 1927 by a man who demanded a ransom of $200. Alert law enforcement officers were able to identify and apprehend the thief, who had robbed about 700 churches over a 20-year period. When the statue was returned, it was placed in its current position, behind a protective shield, on the west-side altar in the upper basilica.
Stowe said the statue itself has no great value, but many of its garments and crowns are studded with gems, precious metals and lace. Brother Angelo Catania said people devoted to Mary have hand made more than 500 dresses over the years. The staff changes the dresses according to the feasts and seasons within the church year. The costumes represent praise and thanksgiving to Our Lady for favors they have received through her.
"The idea was they would deny themselves some beautiful fabrics ... so they would make clothes for the statues," Kin said.
Elements in the mural of the glorified Jesus in the upper basilica symbolize the bond between Mary and the Son of God and her role as intercessor for Christians. The 12 lambs along the bottom of the mural represent the 12 Apostles. A crowd of angels and saints surrounds Jesus' throne.
"The special thing about the painting is ... Mary has her hand on her heart, looking up to Jesus. Her other hand is actually resting on the hem of his cloak, because we know that Mary takes our prayers, our intentions and all of our needs directly to Jesus. Mary is our intercessor for them," Kin said.
He pointed out the stand near the Our Lady of Consolation statue. Visitors can write prayer requests on slips of paper and deposit them in jars. Every day, the secretary types the requests on pages that are added to a thick book. The friars and parishioners pray for these intentions.
Below the mural of Jesus is the main altar framed with a rounded arch in Romanesque style. McBride Studios in Cleveland designed the high altar, and artisans in Italy used marble in various colors to construct it. Some of the marble is pierced to let light shine through. Above the altar are marble relief sculptures of a crucifix and a pelican.
"The pelican was a sign of Christianity from the second century. The mother pelican is plucking out her feathers and her blood to feed her chicks," Kin said.
The upper basilica also has large, stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible. Kin said the windows were assembled in St. Louis and brought to the basilica over a three-year period. Also of note in the lower shrine is a collection of more than 300 religious relics.
During the Catholic Church's "Year of Faith," the faithful are encouraged to visit Carey and other holy places. No matter what one's religious beliefs, the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation is a special attraction in northwest Ohio. Booklets and pamphlets in the back of the church are available for self-guided walking tours of the buildings and grounds. The website is www.olcshrine.org.