VIDEO: One of Rome’s Best Kept Marian Secrets

A favorite of Pope St. John Paul II, the majestic church and mystical grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Graces make a memorable pilgrimage from the Eternal City.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella, Mother of Graces.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella, Mother of Graces. (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

Just over an hour by car from Rome and still in the Lazio region lies a little known, breathtaking shrine dedicated to Our Lady.

Perched on the top of a mountain overlooking a vast valley below, the Shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella, Mother of Graces, is surprisingly barely known. And yet it was the first Marian shrine Pope Saint John Paul II visited after his election in 1978 and a favorite of his that he would often return to. Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage to the Marian place of worship in 2005 and celebrated Mass there, exactly 27 years to the day of John Paul II’s first visit.

On the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary last week, I travelled with a friend to this hidden treasure of the Church, driving through winding mountain passes, verdant meadows heavily populated with livestock, before reaching the shrine that sits in a commanding position above the plunging valley of Giovenzano below.

Run by Polish priests of the Congregation of the Resurrection, the original structure, close to the town of Capranica Prenestina, was said to have been founded in the 4th century by Constantine, on the site of Saint Eustachio's conversion.

The shrine’s small church, with its gable façade and ogival windows, dates back to the 13th century, while behind it is a mystical grotto where Saint Benedict is alleged to have lived for two years.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Mentorella was developed by Jesuit scholar Father Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century, believing it to be one of the 12 abbeys St. Benedict founded. Pope Pius IX placed it under the care of the Polish Resurrectionist Congregation in 1857.

Saint John Paul II, well known for his deep devotion to Our Blessed Mother, used to cherish a hiking path leading to the shrine, now known as the Wojtyla Trail, which makes its way through a magical landscape of small waterfalls surrounded by red rock.

With the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and the 100th anniversary of the apparitions soon upon us, as well as this month being the month of Mary, it could be fitting to make a pilgrimage to this shrine if you happen to be visiting or living in the Eternal City.

But anytime is really opportune to see this outstandingly beautiful shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Graces.  

Resurrectionist's website on the shrine.

Drone video and photos: Edward Pentin