A shrine is a church or other sacred place visited for special devotion. Typically they are visited as part of a pilgrimage for purposes of thanksgiving, penitence, intercession, or petition. It is a spiritual ascetic practiced by many faiths and has existed for a very long time; in fact it is recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke that Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, went to Jerusalem every year to observe the feast of Passover. Egeria, the noteworthy fourth-century pilgrim from Spain, wrote in her famous diary of her visit to Jerusalem and her participation in the Holy Week liturgies held at biblically based sites. Indeed, it has been expressed that our’s is a faith of pilgrimage, that we are on a journey to a sacred destination; that devotion is an extension of that experience. For example, in uncertain times, be they personal in nature our pertaining to our country, seek a sacred place for such devotion, and the Lady Chapel at St. Mary’s could provide that setting.
The Anglican Communion/Episcopal Church do not have a lengthy list of shrines as compared to the Roman Catholic Church, but there are still a number of sacred and saintly places that provide the requisite spiritual setting sought by the pilgrim. A notable example of this is the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Walsingham, England The original shrine was established at the time of the Second Crusade in the 12th century. A English noblewoman, who’s apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary were thought to be divine and miraculous, had a son who was leaving to join the Crusade. He left a housing facility for use as a Priory (a small monastery or nunnery) to care for the Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham, and it’s famous statue of the Virgin. It was one of the most important place of pilgrimage in Europe at that time; but it was destroyed by King Henry VIII in 1538. However, it was rebuilt in the late 1930’s and its favor among pilgrims has returned anew. The reality is that people of faith have long sought to find a place for spiritual nurture and renewal, to spend time with God in a sacred setting; for pray, for recollection and reconciliation, to express thankfulness; saintly shrines are destinations for those yearnings and purposes.
The lighting of candles is another means of expressing this liturgy of devotion, particularly at a shrine. Symbols are a significant aspect of our faith as Christians, the Cross being the most obvious and significant one. Similarly the lighting of candles can convey a multitude of symbolic purposes: acknowledging and proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Light of the World; in baptism a candle is lit for the child from the Paschal Candle and thereby the child receives the Light of Christ to guide them through life; for personal recollections of loved ones who have died; for the light that burns in one’s heart for Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Acts of devotion are typically not intellectual but rather spiritual and emotional. This is important and meaningful because they draw upon our urge to be closer to God, the deepest of our desires, the purpose for our being. Devotional candles raise us up out of the darkness of our broken and fallen world, and provide a glimpse of that heavenly light we aspire, as pilgrims, to attain.