ASIA/CHINA - History of the Shrine to Our Lady of Sheshan

Friday, 23 May 2008

Shanghai (Agenzia Fides) - The Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sheshan is located in the district of Song Jiang, near the great metropolis of Shang Hai, and is dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians of Sheshan.
In 1863, the then Superior of the Jesuit community in Shang Hai purchased the south side of the mountain of Sheshan, that offers a beautiful panorama of bamboo forest. On this site, a retreat house was built for Jesuit Fathers, with a small chapel next door, and the construction of the Shrine began. On March 1, 1868, the then Bishop of Shanghai, Bishop Adrien Languillat, SJ, consecrated the chapel and blessed the image of Our Lady Help of Christians. Every year, on May 24, her feast day, many faithful visit the Shrine.
During the attack of rebels from the Army of Tai Ping, the Superior of the Jesuit community in Shanghai, Fr. Gu Zhen Sheng, went up to the mountain of Sheshan to pray to the Blessed Virgin, saying: “If the diocese is saved from the attack of the rebels, we will build a basilica in thanksgiving for Our Lady’s special protection.” The Diocese was spared from destruction. In September 1870, Fr. Gu made known his invocation to the Blessed Mother and the promise to build a new church in thanksgiving. In a document, he explained the details of the event to the faithful and began asking for donations in order to build the basilica. On May 24, 1871, feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, in the presence of 6,000 people, the Bishop of Shanghai, Bishop Languillat presided the ceremony of the laying of the cornerstone of the new church, thanks to the generous offerings of the faithful. On April 15, 1873, Bishop Languillat himself consecrated and inaugurated the great Basilica on the mountain top. Since then, “Our Lady of Sheshan” has become the special protector of the Diocese of Shanghai. Every May 1 and 24, the Basilica welcomes great numbers of pilgrims not only from China, but from other countries in Asia.
Upon the request of Bishop Languillat, in 1874, Pope Pius IX granted the gift of an indulgence for all pilgrims who complete the pilgrimage to the Shrine during the month of May. The following year, the Shanghai community also had bells installed.
In 1894, in the mid-range of the mountain, the Catholics built the church of Zhong Shan (meaning, “in the middle of the mountain”), dedicated to Our Lady as Mediatrix. Shortly following this event, three chapels were erected, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the door of the church, according to the Chinese tradition, there are two proverbs: “Rest a while by the small chapel half-way up the hill and offer your filial homage. The sanctuary is up at the mountain top. Climb a few steps more and implore the mercies of the Mother of God.” (a translation from the Chinese from the “Guide to the Catholic Church in China 2004”). Along the paths, there are also 14 Stations of the Cross.
After various works of restoration and additions, the modern-day Shrine dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians of Sheshan is of Roman-style architecture, 56 meters long, 25 meters wide, and 17 meters high, with a bell tower of 38 meters. On top of the bell towers is a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, weighing 2 tons and 3.87 meters high. The Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan can hold 3,000 faithful and is known are the first basilica of eastern Asia. After the revolution, once it was returned to the Catholic community, the Basilica came back to life. In the month of May, especially, faithful from all over China and the rest of Asia come to the shrine to pay homage to the Blessed Mother. (NZ) (Agenzia Fides 23/5/2008; righe 46, parole 638)


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