The Grotto

Situated atop a 33.5-meter cliff at Northeast Portland, Oregon, is the National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother or widely known as The Grotto. It is a Roman Catholic outdoor sanctuary dedicated to the Our Sorrowful Mother Mary. The Grotto is a world-renowned non-profit center set among 62 acres of botanical gardens, providing a place for all about 300,000 visitors annually who would like some peace to reflect.



Friar Ambrose Mayer of southern Ontario, Canada established the Grotto in 1924 to fulfill a promise because his prayers were answered when he was young. In the late 1800s, his mother had a brush with death when she gave birth to his sister. There were severe complications during childbirth, and religious Mayer went to church and promised to repay the favor if his mother and sister live.

He then joined the Servites, a religious order founded in the 13th century in Florence, Italy, and was sent to Portland, Oregon to be the first Servite priest. From Ontario to Portland, he brought along his dream to build a shrine as a tribute to Mary.

Father Mayer stumbled upon a 62-acre land situated at the outskirts of Northeast Portland. The property is a quarry site and was utterly rugged. It was owned and managed by the Union Pacific Railroad Company until 1923 when Mayer paid for it for $3000. The asking price in the market is $48,000 was reserved for sale as a residential property. Father Mayer was not discouraged, and a national campaign to pay for the $45,000 balance was initiated.

The construction commenced in September 1923. Out of the 110-foot volcanic rock cliff, a cave was carved out. Above it, a stone altar was built with a statue of Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion.

A year later, on May 29, 1924, the first mass was celebrated. Three thousand people attended mass when Archbishop Alexander Christie prayed that the Grotto would be a sanctuary for everyone.


The northern face of Rocky Butte divides the sanctuary into two levels.

Lower Level

Carved into the side of the cliffside of the lower level is Our Lady’s Grotto. Inside it houses a replica of the Pieta by Michelangelo. Also found on this level is The Chapel of Mary, Mother of the Human Race. This chapel is constructed from a mixture of marble and sandstone. Inside, it houses images of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as well as the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Upper Level

A red chapel on the upper level is accessible only by an elevator. This chapel is dedicated to St. Anne, Jesus’s grandmother. It exhibits paintings of Mary and Jesus collected from around the world. The Peace Garden, also on the upper level, spans for more than an acre and features the mysteries of the rosary, the Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful and Luminous mysteries. Other shrines, from different parts of the world, are spread throughout the garden.

Schedule of Events

The Grotto holds daily masses, with ceremonies that are scheduled every noon on weekdays and 8 in the morning every Saturdays. From May to October, there is a second mass at noon aside from the usual 10 AM mass, which weather-permitting is held outdoors at The Grotto Plaza. There are also many events hosted every year, such as the famous Christmas Festival of Lights in November and December, the Blessing of the Animals every July and the International Freedom Sunday.

Learn About the University of Portland



Our History | The Grotto

The Grotto

The Grotto in Portland, Oregon and a Young Boy’s Promise to God

Wikipedia: The Grotto