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Carfin Grotto

Carfin Grotto, a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes was the idea of Father, later Canon, Thomas N. Taylor (died 1963), parish priest of St. Francis Xavier's Parish in Carfin, two miles east of Motherwell, in the West of Scotland. He wanted to build a shrine similar to the Grotto of Massabielle at the shrine of Lourdes in France.

Early Days

Work on the Carfin version of the Lourdes Grotto began in the early 1920s. The shrine was built, by hand, by local parishioners on a site opposite the Catholic Church. Many of the builders were coal miners from Carfin and neighbouring villages out of work during the 1921 Coal Miners' Strike. It is said that Fr. Taylor was aware of the need to keep these workers occupied to minimise the effects of unemployment on their morale. Fr. Taylor inspired hard work and dedication from his workers.

Starting as only a bare field, the shrine was largely complete within two years. It depicted Our Lady's appearance to Saint Bernadette in a bricked, terraced scene which included an altar for outdoor Mass, when the West of Scotland weather allowed. Canon Taylor's book of the shrine's first thirty years records over 300 volunteers working on the grotto in its first two decades. He also records a single pilgrimage of over fifty thousand pilgrims in 1924.

Growth and Development of the Shrine

The shrine opened in late 1922 and it quickly became a pilgrimage site for Catholics from across Scotland and the rest of the world. Services were held for the Polish and Lithuanian communities that had settled in Scotland. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims of different faiths have visited Carfin.

The shrine expanded beyond a single field to many acres between 1922 and the 1960s. The grotto later added a Glass Chapel situated on a raised "Headland" where Mass was conducted; a representation of Jesus' life with Mary and Joseph in their Loretto house and carpentry shop, and a sunken garden. Many holy statues and artifacts were added to the Lourdes Grotto scene and a Glass Chapel on a peak above the grotto. Other adornments included the Way of the Cross, a large number of statues of Saints, and a depiction of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, complete with miniature lakes.

On Sunday afternoons at 3pm, between May and October, Rosary processions were held, and attended by thousands of visitors. The rosary was led by the parish priest, beginning with Fr. Taylor and his successor, Fr. George Mullen (later Canon George Mullen). The priest would stand on the parapet of the Glass Chapel, from which a clear view could be obtained, both of the Grotto itself and of the movement of the procession along the shrine's gravel paths. Each Sunday procession culminated in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the Glass Chapel. Many local people remember the discomfort of kneeling in the gravel as children, at the moment of adoration in the Benediction service.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

In addition to his devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, Canon Taylor also admired Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the "Little Flower". This admiration began during the Canon's visits to France where devotion to the Carmelite nun rose rapidly following her death. One catalyst for this growth was the posthumous publication of St. Thérèse's autobiography, "Story of A Soul". Her enclosed life of devotion to Jesus and her "little way" to God attracted considerable admiration following this publication. Canon Taylor believed that St. Thérèse, a future Doctor of the Church, would become an important figure early in the new century.

So, as a measure of his devotion to the Little Flower, the Canon added a statue of St. Thérèse directly across from that of Our Lady of Lourdes. The shrine's statue to St. Thérèse was erected within weeks of her beatification in Rome by Pope Pius XI on 29th April 1923, an event which the Canon attended. The decision to erect the statue was controversial. Some pilgrims expressed the view that this "new" Saint's statue should not stand in such proximity to that of the Blessed Mother. The Canon took the unusual step of collecting these opinions and sending copies to the Superior of the Carmelite convent in France where St. Thérèse had lived her vocational life. The Mother Superior's advice was that the statue should remain in its location, and she predicted that the Carfin Lourdes Grotto would enjoy large numbers of pilgrims as a result.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux is the secondary patroness of the grotto after Our Lady.

National and International Pilgrims

By the time of Canon Taylor's death in 1963, the Carfin Lourdes Grotto enjoyed a high national profile and attracted tens of thousands of pilgrims annually. Among the many seasonal pilgrimages to the shrine, each May, First Communicants from surrounding diocesan parishes visited for procession, with lines of white-dressed girls and school-blazered boys. As the region is rich in Irish immigrants, local Hibernian groups attended the shrine annually on procession. Lithuanian and Polish groups also attended the shrine on annual pilgrimage.

New Additions

Following the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival , the glass chapel used at the event was relocated to Carfin Grotto, where it was placed near the arena of Our Lady, Star of the Sea in the lower garden area of the grotto. This building, the grotto's second Glass Chapel, was subsequently dedicated to the victims of the Lockerbie Disaster. Daily Mass is now celebrated in this glass chapel, now named Our Lady, Maid of the Seas after the ill-fated aircraft from Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed near the Scottish town of Lockerbie on 21st December, 1988.

More recently, the Reliquary opened within the Grotto grounds and features many religious artifacts used throughout the years at various processions and celebrations.

Most recently, a new Pilgrimage Centre opened in 1997, featuring an exhibition of the history of different faiths and beliefs, as well as displaying various religious artifacts. The centre also features a cafe and shop.

A Sign for Our Times

Carfin Grotto is one of Britain's foremost Marian shrines. It continues to be spiritual and inspiring. Set in the midst of a small village, the Grotto represents the achievements of hard-working people whose faith directed them to create a holy place in the industrial belt of Scotland.

References

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