Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hidden Gems

I think it is really interesting to discover the fascinating attractions in the area in which you live where before you weren't aware of their existence. Such is the discovery that we made today. In an effort to defeat the boredom brought on by the never-ending heat, we decided to venture a little out of the metropolitan St. Louis area today in search of a new adventure. Our destination, Perryville, MO.

I am quite sure that all of you are very envious that we had the opportunity to travel for only about 75 minutes before reaching Perryville! Actually, those of you who are still reading this are probably asking, "What is a Perryville, MO?" Well, Perryville is a small Missouri town nestled in the hills of the south central section of the state not far from the Mississippi River. OK. What's the big deal? What could possibly beckon us to burn several dollars of petrol to Perryville?

Just on the outskirts of town, sitting amidst the gently rolling hills, is an oasis from the world known as the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. I had heard of the place but, obviously, had never visited there. The entire shrine is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The centerpiece of the shrine is a beautiful church that is quite old but very well looked after. Surrounded by native trees and oriental maples, the church draws you to its front doors. It is a simple, yet, magnificent structure that does not overwhelm you with its size so much as it does with its peace. The shrine to Mary is located inside the church itself.

As you enter the church, the first thing you notice is that the walls of the church are covered in wonderful artwork depicting various saints in the Catholic Church. It is a place of solemnity and peace. You can pause awhile and pray or just simply think about whatever happens to be on your mind at the time. The high ceilings, also covered in art, return a unique echo of the footsteps of the pilgrims below. Here is a church that looks like a church, feels like a church, and even smells like a church. Those of you who are Catholic may actually know what I mean by its smelling like a church!

Once outside the church, a path leads to the rest of the sprawling grounds. You are led to a grotto honoring Mary, decorated with many different kinds of flowers in their full summer bloom. As you move on, you come to a unique structure that happens to be the log cabin built by the first priest to this area in the very early 1800's. This is not a reproduction nor a replica. It is the cabin. A little to the rear of the cabin lay a small but dignified cemetery, the resting place of several priests of the order that settled the area. Graves are marked with simple, yet elegant crosses with the name of each priest along with their date of birth and death. The grave site is still in use today for the last priest to be laid to rest near the towering trees was just this last June.

From the cemetery, you can begin a long, leisurely stroll to another part of the grounds. It is tree lined and even on a day like today when the temperature surely was 95, there was a sense of coolness thanks to the dense shade the trees provide. To the left, numerous trees dot the gentle rolling hills. There are countless oaks, maples, elms, and an assortment of other native trees. To the right is a meticulously planted soy bean field awash with the bright August sunlight. At this point you begin to travel down a slope leading to another grotto honoring Mary. This is the site of an outdoor altar. Flowering shrubs and flowers rim the grotto.

There is a sense of peace an calm on this part of the property that you feel as you sit on one of the many benches under the trees. It is a peace not necessarily attributable to the isolation of the place. It is a peace that is something other than earthly. You want to stay as long as possible and drink it in, taking the memory of the peace with you to sustain you through the upcoming days, weeks, and months. The location lends itself easily to contemplation. With nature in abundance all around you, you cannot help but feel the presence of God in everything that you gaze upon. It is a place where time is temporarily suspended and what is important in life becomes radiantly clear. But, because we exist in a world of time, you realize that you must move on, if reluctantly.

The same meandering path takes you back to the shrine, but the walk back is not to be hurried. I found it interesting that on the way back, neither one of us said much of anything. I think we were both lingering back at the grotto, drinking in all the feelings that came in that spot.
This hidden gem was well worth the time and gas spent to get there! We will be returning in cooler weather and most definitely in the Fall. I am very sure that the Autumn colors will make a spectacular, rather out of the way gem, an even more sparkling jewel!