Sacred Site In the Rio Grande Valley
Whether you are a person of faith or a history buff this beautiful shrine in deep South Texas needs to be on your "must see list" during your stay.
The shrine, referred to by locals has an official title, "Virgen de San Juan del Valle Bascilica" roughly translated, The Virgin of San Juan of the valley Shrine. This beautiful historical church is one of the top attractions in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Set in the heart of the valley one can imagine what this property looked like in the early 50's, set in groves of virgin palm trees, exotic tropical plants and flowers that once filled the valley and at it's heart is this breathtaking basilica.
The original shrine was dedicated in 1954 in honor of La Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos in Mexico. However,
the seed that grew this sacred spot began with a small wooden mission in 1920 and the heart of a dedicated Father. Father Joseph Azpiazu, the first director of the Shrine, had compassion on his followers when he realized that the shrines of Mexico were too far away for his Mexican American parishioners to use. So he brought to the parish a replica image of Our Lady of San Juan. Only three feet high, the detail of her design and clothing were created by the infamous artists of Jalisco at San Juan de Los Lagos where the original La Virgen de San Juan was created. Little did he realize just how much bringing the Lady to the valley would mean to the community. Hundreds began to pilgrimage here and stories of miracles and healings began to multiply. Today crowds of up to 800 people may attend mass.
The shrine has not been without it's dramatic stories too. In 1980, the shrine was under attack, the details of why are still unclear but apparently a small jet deliberately dove into the church during a Sunday morning service. The building was destroyed but miraculously all 150 souls and two priests along with the replica of the Virgin Lady were spared any harm or damage, yet the church burned to the ground. The pilot died instantly. The shrine was rebuilt to it's original design on a larger scale after the incident.
Today, the Shrine features full-scale outdoor Stations of the Cross and one of the world's largest mosaics. Those unfamiliar with the fourteen stations of the cross, "via crucis", the way of the cross, depicts the life of Christ and most portray a moment in time on the day of his crucifixion. These life size bronzes were first created in wood by Italian artist Edmund Rabanser and then reproduced in bronze, except for the large solid oak wooden cross, purposely left in wood for aesthetic contrast.
The "via crucis" is serenely set along a stone pathway, each station created with enough space for quiet reflection.
According to the Texas State Historical Society, the reconstruction of the basilica cost several million dollars and seats more than 1,800. The image of the Virgin is placed high in the sanctuary where it remains the center of the people's devotion. Pilgrims average from 10,000 to 20,000 weekly. They come from every state in the Union and from many foreign countries and find Masses, all in Spanish, in progress from early morning to late at night.
The Shrine is located on Expressway 83 east of McAllen in San Juan. For information, call 787-0033.