Alabama’s Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

In rural Alabama, a spiritual site founded by Mother Angelica (who also founded the Eternal Word Television Network) includes the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

The piazza in front of the Main Church at Alabama’s Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament can hold up to 30,000 people. (photo by Lori Erickson)

 

Set on 400 acres of woodlands and rolling hills, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament might make you think you’ve been transported to Europe. With a central piazza holding up to 30,000 people and a church constructed of the finest materials from around the world, the shrine is an exquisite spiritual landmark.

The site includes Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, which is home to nuns who are part of a Franciscan order known as the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. While the nuns live a cloistered life in the Monastery next to the main church, the rest of the shrine includes many places that visitors can tour.

Mother Angelica, Founder of the Shrine

In the lower level of the church, a photo of Mother Angelica reminds visitors of her central role in the shrine’s founding. (Photo by Lori Erickson)

The founder of the shrine, Mother Mary Angelica, was one of the most famous nuns of the 20th century. Born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, she joined the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in 1944, becoming Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. After suffering a serious back injury while cleaning the monastery, she made a vow to build a monastery in the South if her prayer for healing was answered.

Mother Angelica and four other sisters left Canton for Irondale, Alabama, and founded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in 1962. It was there she founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in 1981. After the network became so successful that its size disturbed the peacefulness of the monastery, in the 1990s Mother Angelica searched for property in northern Alabama where she could build a new monastery.

She found a peaceful, rural spot on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. Over the next years a remarkable set of landmarks was constructed here, all inspired by European traditions. The Main Church is a Romanesque-Gothic building of limestone bricks topped by clay roof tiles. Its interior floor and altar are made of different types of marble sourced from around the world. Its hand-carved reredos (an ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of the altar) is ornamented with gold leaf, and its stained-glass windows were made by a studio in Munich. Most beautiful of all is the stunning gold Tabernacle and Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.

Beautiful stained glass windows are found throughout Alabama’s Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. (photo by Lori Erickson)

After touring the church (where silence is observed and no photography is allowed), visit the Lower Church, which contains an exhibit on the Shroud of Turin, a worship space, and a crypt where Mother Angelica and other deceased nuns of the order have been laid to rest.

Outside on the piazza, note the statue of the Divine Child Jesus, which is made from white marble from Carrara, Italy. To the side of the piazza is an outdoor colonnade containing the fourteen Stations of the Cross.

The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which was dedicated in 1999, has become a pilgrimage site for spiritual seekers from around the world. Services are held throughout the day, including a Noon Mass and Evening Prayer.

Eternal Word Television Network

Mother Angelica’s involvement with the media began with her writing and publishing a series of mini-books with practical spiritual lessons. The success of that venture led to the founding of Eternal Word Television Network, which began in a garage at the Irondale monastery in 1981 with a budget of $200.

EWTN has since grown to become the largest religious media network in the world, reaching more than 425 million households. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels, which operate 24 hours a day, are broadcast in multiple languages to more than 160 countries and territories. EWTN also produces radio programs, has one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S., operates the Catholic News Agency and several global wire services, and maintains a book publishing division.

Headquarters for EWTN are in Irondale, which is just outside of the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

Other Areas to Tour at the Shrine

The colonnade at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament has views of the surrounding rural countryside. (photo by Lori Erickson)

While the Main Church is the centerpiece of any visit, the shrine has other sites to explore:

• The outdoor Lourdes Grotto, which overlooks the river, is a replica of the famous grotto in France.

• The John Paul II Eucharistic Center has exhibits on the Eucharist in scripture and history.

• A creche holds a nativity scene and votive candles.

• The Castle of San Miguel, which is inspired by thirteenth-century Spanish architecture, houses a gift shop, conference room, dining area.

 

The Castle of San Miguel houses a gift shop, conference rooms, and a dining area. (photo by Lori Erickson)

Though Mother Angelica died in 2016, her legacy lives on in this beautiful shrine.

 

Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of books that include Holy RoverNear the ExitThe Soul of the Family Tree, and Every Step Is HomeHer website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.

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