Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics in Ohio (Archdiocese of Cincinnati)

Visitors approaching the farming community of Maria Stein in Western Ohio notice two large steeples from separate churches soaring into the sky.  These symbolic monuments to God are testimonies of the solid faith of the German immigrant farmers who settled here during the nineteenth century.  One steeple is the local Catholic parish, St. John the Baptist.  The other is the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics, the second largest relics collection in the United States (the largest is found at St. Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh).  Pilgrims have been arriving at the Shrine since 1875 to pray before the relics.  The first brick convent, built in 1860, no longer stands.  Between 1890-1902 the present buildings were constructed.  

Maria Stein is an incredible place to visit and offers a fascinating liturgical landscape, with an un untouched relics chapel (complete with matching Gothic Revival altars, rail, and pews).  The relics chapel displays over 1,200 authenticated relics that include over 850 different saints.  The present chapel was dedicated in 1892 and is connected to the old sisters' main chapel that was dedicated in 1890 to Our Lady Help of Christians.  Pilgrims continue to flock here, finding spiritual solace, contemplating the lives of the saints and praying for their heavenly intercession.  Carved in the limestone archway above the entrance are these words in both English and German: "Enter devoutly O Pilgrim, for no place is holier than this on the New Continent."  Meanwhile, the collection of relics has been added to over the years and has continued to steadily grow (additions have been made of Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, John XXIII, Maximillian Kolbe, and others).  The chapel has the beautiful aroma of candles and the odor of sanctity.  The center altar displays a rare sight in North America - a recumbent Christ, a statue of Our Lord laying down in the tomb after having been taken down from the cross.  The liturgical space is tight, but fascinating.   The beautiful stained glass windows were imported from Germany.   

The property today consists of a former convent, main chapel, gift shop, and two chapels.  On the nearly 21 acres there are also gardens, a cemetery, a park, and a retreat center.  The old convent was formerly the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Precious Blood, an order founded in a castle in Switzerland by Maria Anna Brunner in 1834.  Her son, Fr. Francis de Sales Brunner, was a missionary with the Precious Blood Fathers, an order for men founded a generation before in Italy.  He brought the German-speaking Swiss sisters to America in 1844.  In 1846 the nuns established their foundation at Maria Stein, a large flat plane near the Indiana border named after a Benedictine Abbey in Switzerland - Our Lady of the Rock.  The architects and builders of the Shrine were the Anton DeCurtins family, locals from Germany who designed, built, and decorated churches, rectories, and convents for 90 years.   

Large numbers of Catholics settled in this general vicinity from Germany, drawn by the activities of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.  This order was a society of priests and brothers founded by St. Gaspar del Bufalo in 1815 at the request of Pope Pius VII, created in response to the spiritual desolation in Rome after the Pope returned from exile and realized missions should be established throughout the Papal States to help rejuvenate the Faith.  A ten minute drive from the Shrine is the beautiful old St. Charles Seminary of the Precious Blood Missionaries, sitting on 500-acres just outside the town of Carthagena (the property is now called the St. Charles Center).    In fact, the area surrounding the Shrine, for a radius of 22 miles, is called the land of "cross-tipped" churches.  It is a visually distinctive place, a mirror of Europe, with an array of over 30 Catholic churches, a legacy of art and architecture, a scenic byway of 60 ecclesiastical buildings that represent the uniqueness of the region's German Catholic settlements.  

Most of the relics of the saints were brought to Maria Stein from Italy in 1875.  The largest number belonged to Fr. Francis de Sales Brunner, who was an avid collector who brought his relic collection with him to the New World.  Pilgrims began to journey to the Shrine from that time forward, eager to pray in such a holy place and to be inspired by the lives of the saints.  The most popular relics have been the 2 of the Cross of Christ.  Today the property is known as the National Marian Shrine of the Holy Relics.  The property was the motherhouse of the sisters until 1923 when they expanded to the nearby city of Dayton.  The last sisters left the shrine in 2010, entrusting the administration to lay personnel.  In 2017 there was an official transfer of assets and today the shrine is provided for under the guidance of a Legacy Fund for operational expenses and the St. Joseph Preservation Fund for architectural integrity.  The work continues.  Many pilgrims pray before the relic of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer victims.  For those with a particular interest in relics, a visit here is even more meaningful.    

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