By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, Staff Writer, Originally Published by the San Antonio Express-News
(Re-posted with permission)
San Antonio is known worldwide for iconic religious landmarks — its Missions were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015 — but far fewer realize that it’s home to a replica of a religious site that is also well-known: the Lourdes Grotto of France.
The rock formation in Lourdes, a town 523 miles south of Paris, and just 70 miles north of the border with Spain, is known for the sightings of the Virgin Mary, known as the Lady of Lourdes, and its miraculous healing waters. It’s a sacred place for many, drawing several million visitors annually.
It was also the inspiration for an Oblate priest who wanted to create a special place of devotion while working in San Antonio. Priests with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate first arrived in Texas in the 1860s, eventually settling in San Antonio. Decades later, one of the Oblates priests “wanted to have a place for devotion and he built an exact replica of the grotto in France,” said the Rev. Leo Perez, the director of the grotto in San Antonio.
The reinforced concrete grotto — and a statue of the Lady of Lourdes — is now known as one of the most exact replicas of the Lourdes Grotto in the Americas. But it didn’t make the news when it was dedicated — Dec. 7, 1941, the same day Japanese military forces attacked Pearl Harbor.
According to Perez, those present at the dedication Mass didn’t know about the attack when it started. But even though this was decades before the digital age, by the end of Mass people already were talking about the nation now being at war, he said.
In 1979, the San Antonio grotto added a statue of another famous apparition of the Virgin Mary, the Lady of Guadalupe. It was placed on top of the concrete rock formation to simulate a small hill. The Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac outside of Mexico City. About 20 million people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City annually.
The same year that the Lady of Guadalupe statue was added, the Grotto Chapel added a Mass celebrated in Spanish, making it one of the first churches on the North Side to offer a Spanish Mass. Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and Tepeyac de San Antonio are on the campus of the Oblate School of Theology, 285 Oblate Drive. It also offers a daily Mass in English.