Located nine miles southeast of St. Louis is the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. One of the largest outdoor shrines in North America, Our Lady of the Snows is a reference to the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore) in Rome were it was reported that snow fell in the summer time. Apart from being just a shrine, Our Lady of the Snows is also home to a restaurant, a hotel, an apartment complex for the retired, a residence for the Oblates, a visitors and conference center as well as a large gift shop. The main highlight of the shrine is it annual “Way of Lights.” During Advent and Christmas, the shrine puts on an outdoor light display that features 1.1 million+ lights and has over 350,000 visitors. Although not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Our Lady of the Snows is still an important landmark to the St. Louis area and to the religious community of the area. The Belleille Inn & Suites and the Super 8 of Belleville are two hotels closest to the shrine if one should chose not to stay in the hotel on premises.
The history of Our Lady of the Snows has its roots in the 1940s. At that time Fr. Paul Schulte, O.M.I. commissioned artist, J. Watson Davis to paint a portrait of Our Lady of the Snows. Davis epicted an Oblate missionary and his airplane on a sick call to an Inuit (Eskimo) mission with Our Lady appearing while surrounded by the rays of the Northern Lights. After Fr. Schulte returned from the Arctic to reside at St. Henry’s Seminary in Belleville, the painting of Our Lady of the Snows that he had commissioned was hung in the seminary’s chapel. A few years later, Fr. Schulte, with help from Fr. Edwin Guild, O.M.I., developed the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate to foster devotion to the Blessed Mother using the name Our Lady of the Snows. Devotion to Our Lady of the Snows grew and it was soon realized that a new location was needed. In February of 1958, the site in Belleville was purchased, with work beginning that summer. The shrine was soon completed and has been opened to the public ever since.
Today, Our Lady of the Snows continues to serve as a place of worship and as a community gathering place. Apart from its annual “Way of Lights”, the shrine is also home to a church, a natural outdoor amphitheater, the Stations of the Cross, a an Annunciation and Resurrection Gardens, a depiction of the Lourdes Grotto, and a devotional site for Our Lady of Guadalupe. As stated above, although Our Lady of the Snows is not listed on the National Register, it is still an important landmark to the St. Louis area.