To get to the Virgin of the Poor Shrine in New Hope from Chattanooga, take Interstate 24 west toward Nashville, get off at exit 152 and turn left toward South Pittsburg. Go two miles, merge onto U.S. Highway 72 west and take the ramp toward South Pittsburg/state Highway 156. Merge onto North Cedar Avenue and take the second left onto Highway 156 east. Continue on 156 to Mail Loop Road east on the left. Follow the Shrine signs to the site, open from sunrise to sunset.
NEW HOPE, Tenn. -- The Virgin of the Poor Shrine stands in a quiet spot not far from the Tennessee River in Marion County.
Benedictine monks built it for spiritual contemplation, and they wanted it to be open to anyone of any faith.
"It's just a very prayerful, peaceful place," said the Rev. Mark Scholz, who has served the last six years at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in nearby South Pittsburg.
"It's not just for Catholics, but for everyone," said Scholz, an Indiana native. "The setting itself was chosen by the monks to resemble the actual site [of the original shrine] in Banneux, Belgium, where it's kind of a mountainous region like we have here."
The shrine, completed in New Hope in 1982, is a replica of the shrine at the Belgium site where 11-year-old Mariette Beco was said to have seen the Virgin Mary appear eight times in 1933, according to church records and Scholz.
Beckoning the girl to a nearby spring, the apparition told Mariette the spring was "reserved for the sick of all nations. I come to relieve those who suffer."
During the reported visits, Mary asked that a chapel be built. The events were authenticated by the Catholic Church in August 1949, records show.
Church officials in the U.S. directed the Rev. Basil Mattingly, the former priest at Our Lady of Lourdes in South Pittsburg, to build a duplicate shrine in New Hope on a 600-acre farm willed to them by the Duncan family, according to records.
The shrine in New Hope is used during two seasons, on Sundays in May and October, according to Scholz. The first October service will be Sunday at 2 p.m. CDT; others are every Sunday of the month at the same time.
Jasper, Tenn., resident Martha Rash, a Marion County native who is converting to Catholicism, said she had visited the shrine only once.
"I always knew it was there, but I'd never gone," Rash said.
When she visited recently, she found it "very peaceful, and it's a lovely setting," she said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.