The Esquiline is a community that resides within one of the largest outdoor shrines in North America. The Catholic shrine, called The National Shrine of Our Lady of Snows, is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and is located in Belleville, IL. It is not part of a diocese, rather, it’s run by the United States Province of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
“Our Lady of Snows” comes from an old legend that involved the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, which is located in Rome. It is one of the oldest devotions to Mary. It gets its name because Mary came to a Roman couple in their dreams, telling them she wanted a church built in her honor, and that the site where the church was to be built would be covered in snow as a sign. Then, on the hot morning of August 5th, 352 AD, snow had fallen on Esquiline Hill was covered in snow. The summer snow was considered a miracle by all of Rome. About six years later, the church to honor Mary was built on that very hill.
To this day, after many renovations and restorations, the church still stands. While Our Lady of Snows is honored there, it’s not because of the legend. Today, they honor her because of her very role within the Church—she was at her very core, a missionary, which is why the National Shrine of Our Lady of Snows exists today in Illinois. Reverend Father Tom Ovalle, OMI, is the director of these beautiful grounds, and he, along with others, keeps this in mind as their motivations for the beautiful place.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Snows in Belleville also contains a church, an outdoor amphitheatre, Stations of the Cross, a Resurrection Garden, a depiction of the Lourdes Grotto, an Annunciation garden, a devotional site to Our Lady of Guadalupe restaurant, a hotel, a residence for Oblates, a visitors center and a large gift shop. During Advent and Christmas, the shrine holds a lights display called the “Way of Lights” which draws 350,000 visitors every year.
Consider making a visit—we’re a short 9 miles southeast of St. Louis, Missouri. If you stop to see the shrine, think about touring The Esquiline; we’d love to show you around!