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Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament

Joshua Shiver, Auburn University
Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament
The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery (OLAM) in Hanceville, Cullman County, is a Catholic shrine and monastery established by Mother Angelica (1923-2016) in 1999. The Shrine is home to the cloistered orders of the Sisters of the Poor Clare Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration (a branch of the Poor Clares) and the Brothers of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, who oversee the daily operations of the Shrine. The Shrine includes the main Church, a convent and monastery, a recreation of the Lourdes Grotto, Castle San Miguel, a crypt, a life-size Nativity scene, and the Pope John Paul II Eucharistic Center. Displays in the various buildings feature a variety of art, statues, tapestries, and religious iconography. The Shrine is open seven days a week for individual and group pilgrimages.
Mother Angelica is best known for founding the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the largest religious media network in the world, in 1980. She was inspired to build the shrine while on a trip to Colombia for EWTN in 1995, where she claimed to have had an encounter with God after visiting a small chapel dedicated to the Infant Jesus (El Divino Niño). After securing funding from five anonymous donors, Mother Angelica purchased a nearly 400-acre former soybean farm in Hanceville. The Shrine was built to honor the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharist) and construction began in 1996 using modern techniques and materials to reproduce the distinctive architectural features of typical thirteenth-century Franciscan churches and monasteries. Three years later, the main church was officially consecrated on December 19, 1999.
Mother Angelica
The design of the Shrine, the piazza, and the surrounding buildings include elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture that mimic Franciscan churches and shrines in Assisi, Italy. The exterior of the main church is constructed of composite limestone and brick and includes a red tile roof and a traditional square Italianate bell tower with a 14-bell carillon. The Shrine and the surrounding buildings incorporate materials from all over the world, including ceramic tile from South America; stone from Canada; bronze doors depicting the Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows of Mary crafted in Spain; and cedar pews, doors, and confessionals from Paraguay. The stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the life of Jesus, Mary, and Franciscan saints are from Munich, Germany; and floors, columns, and pillars made from marble with individual rare red Jasper marble crosses were imported from Turkey.
The main church is divided into the Upper Church ("The Temple") and the Lower Church. The Upper Church includes the main altar with a large reredos, or altarpiece, of red cedar ornamented with gold leaf that holds a golden tabernacle where the Eucharist is stored. At the top of the reredos is a platform, accessible only by a hidden staircase, where an eight-foot monstrance (consecrated Eucharist receptacle) is placed during the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, or consecrated Eucharist. The Lower Church includes a meeting space, visitor reception area, and crypt that contains the remains of the church's founder, Mother Angelica, as well as other deceased members of the order of nuns. Outside of the Lower Church doors hangs a life-size reproduction of the Shroud of Turin.
El Divino Niño
In front of the main church is a circular piazza with bricks arranged in a herringbone design partially surrounded on two sides by colonnades. In the center of the piazza stands a statue of Jesus as a child (El Divino Niño) holding the Sacred Heart; the statue is based on a design by Carmelite nuns in Madrid. Opposite the main church and across the piazza is the Castle San Miguel, a romanticized recreation of a thirteenth-century Spanish castle that displays medieval armor, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, and statues of Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Joan of Arc. It also houses the Gift Shop of El Niño, conference rooms, and a dining hall. Nearby is another chapel that contains a life-size Nativity scene ensconced within a grotto as well as the monastery that houses the monastic, or secluded nuns. Adjacent to the main church is the contemplative garden Stations of the Most Holy Eucharist, which highlights 12 Scriptural events from the Old and New Testaments.
The property also includes a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes with a rock from the original site in France where Saint Bernadette claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary in 1858. The Pope John Paul II Eucharistic Center includes exhibits on church culture, history, and teachings and includes a true-to-size model of the nearly eight-foot monstrance used in the Shrine. Visitors can view a short film about Pope John Paul II, the Fountain of Life sculpture, a recreation of a Jewish home during their enslavement in ancient Egypt, a recreation of the room of the Last Supper, and an interactive media area for adults and older children.
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery
The Shrine is home to two cloistered orders that were either founded or cofounded by Mother Angelica; the Sisters of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, in 1962, and the Brothers of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, in 1987. The Poor Clare Nuns moved from their original location in Irondale to the new Shrine at Hanceville in 1999. They are devoted to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well as prayer, thanksgiving, and sacrifice according to the model of Saint Clare of Assisi. The Franciscan Missionaries priesthood also live on the property and offer daily Mass and Confession to the faithful, provide guided tours, conduct healing services, host conferences for pilgrimage groups, and offer spiritual lessons for the Sisters. Additionally, one of the Brothers serves as the administrator of the Shrine, overseeing all its liturgical events. The Brothers also assist with various studio and production roles connected to EWTN in Birmingham such as filming, hosting, directing, and editing shows and live broadcasts.
The OLAM Shrine is located at 3224 County Road 548. It is open to the public seven days a week with scheduled events such as Mass, Confession, spiritual talks, healing services, and celebrations of Catholic holy days. It welcomes church, school, and family groups and organizations of all denominations and backgrounds and offers space for conferences and large retreats. It is open October through February from 6:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. and March through September from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. The Pope John Paul II Eucharistic Center Tours are offered Monday through Friday at 10:30 a.m. and Saturday at 10:30a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Tours of the Shrine are available with a reservation; admission to the Shrine is free.
Nearby are the Ave Maria Grotto, the Cullman County Museum, the Cullman Depot (ca. 1918), and Weiss Cottage (ca. 1873).
Published:  January 24, 2020   |   Last updated:  January 24, 2020