What Makes a Catholic Church a Shrine?

Mexico City has a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
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The word “shrine” is often applied too casually, says Catholic Exchange canon law columnist Cathy Caridi. Unless the local bishop designates a place a shrine, it is not a shrine. National shrines are identified by the national conference of bishops. According to Canon 1230 in the Code of Canon Law, a shrine is a sacred place approved by a bishop and visited by religious pilgrims.

1 Not a Parish Church

Parish churches meet the regular needs of people in its neighborhood, rather than attracting pilgrims. Shrines are built to draw pilgrims for a particular devotion. The site may be chosen because a canonized saint is buried there or something of significance to religious history happened in that location.

2 Relics

Shrines to saints often contain preserved relics. For example, the shrine to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec has several relics of Anne, who Catholics believe was the Virgin Mary’s mother. In 1670, Bishop François de Laval brought part of one of Saint Anne’s finger bones to the shrine. In 1892, Pope Leo XIII gifted the shrine with a 4-inch length of St. Anne’s forearm.

3 Apparitions

Shrines are often erected in places where people have seen saintly apparitions. Famous examples include Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal and Our Lady of Knock in Ireland. However, Caridi cautions readers that bishops do not rush into accepting these miracles. In the case of Fatima, the local bishop researched the apparition for 10 years before approving the shrine.

4 Historic Faith Events

Shrines may also be erected at places where historic faith-related events occurred. For example, three Jesuit missionaries -- Father Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and John Lalande -- were killed in a Mohawk village in the 1640s. They are the United States’s only canonized martyrs. The shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, is located on land that used to be the Mohawk village.

5 Fostering Devotion

Shrines foster a particular devotion. Several American shrines honor the Virgin Mary, including the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland, Oregon. The Portland shrine, commonly known as the Grotto, has 62 acres of gardens for pilgrims to roam while meditating on Mary.

Teresa Bergen writes about fitness, health, yoga, travel and the arts. She is the author of "Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide" and has written hundreds of articles for publications online and off. Bergen also teaches yoga, spinning and group fitness classes, and is an ACE-certified personal trainer.