A Virtual Pilgrimage to Holy Hill

Is a domestic pilgrimage in your future?

While visiting family in Wisconsin last week, we made a pilgrimage to Holy Hill, a national basilica and shrine that has welcomed pilgrims since the late 1800s. The site welcomes over 500,000 pilgrims a year, making it one of the most popular shrines in the United States. In fact, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving there in April.

Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get this virtual pilgrimage started! Click on any picture to expand view. Once expanded, if viewing on a device with a keyboard, move through the slide show using the arrows on your keyboard.

Doors to the Basilica


Located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Holy Hill is a historic shrine, a place dedicated to God in honor of Mary, the mother of Christ. It is also a monastery for the Discalced Carmelite Friars, a religious order whose heritage reaches back to a community of hermits living on Mount Carmel in Palestine during the late 12th-century. The word “discalced” refers to a 16th-century reform. And here’s an interesting tidbit: as a symbol of reform, the friars went barefoot or wore sandals.

Magnificent scenery at breathtaking heights

Sing it with me now (set to the tune The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music). 

High on a hill set a holy landmark, lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!

Holy Hill Basilica

The exterior of the church is finished with Pennsylvania brick and Bedford stone. The architecture is romanesque. The facade presents two white Carrara marble statues: Mary represented as queen and Joseph her husband. The iron crosses on top measure 14 feet.

The bell tower (left) & the scenic tower

The bell tower contains three bells, one weighing 1,200 pounds, another 450 pounds, and the third 350 pounds. Visitors can climb the scenic tower’s 178 steps and enjoy a magnificent view of the countryside from the top. With a 5-month old and a near 4-year-old … no-can-do on the climb-o!


The Lourdes Grotto reproduces the scene where Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette in 1858, France. The cast-iron Mary statue shown in the picture is the original that was built in 1897.

The Lourdes Grotto reproduction

Holy water = water that has been formally sanctified by a priest and is used for baptisms, blessings, and repelling evil

At the foot of the grotto, holy water is available to take home. Our daughter Lucy happily filled our “to-go” keepsake bottle. To my delight, Lucy has been blessing herself with the water collected from the grotto every day since. But, (and that’s a big ol’ but!) there should be a warning label on the bottle: Contents in the bottle do not have magical properties! For example, hypothetically speaking of course, a four-year-old who blesses herself with holy water is still a four-year-old who may (or may not) throw a tantrum in the middle of Target when her mother won’t buy her a cookie.

Blessings abound at Das Schmidt Haus now!

From one Marian devotion to another …

The Shrine Adoration Chapel houses a rare statue of Mary. The youthful Virgin-Mother seems to be offering her Son, Jesus Christ, to those who kneel before her. The statue was made in Munich, Germany and exhibited at the Worlds’ Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. It was bought and transferred to Holy Hill on July 1, 1878. Eighteen young girls on foot carried the statue in procession accompanied by 100 men on horseback. Very cool!


Now this is an altar! The main altar with all its parts weighs more than 40 tons and took two years to build. The altar table is made of Botticino marble. The back of the altar is sculptured in Tavernelle marble, which, with age, acquired a hue similar to old ivory. The eight figures on the back of the altar present Doctors of the Church who were chosen for their great love of Mary. The tabernacle is hand-hammered bronze and weighs 500 pounds.

The mosaic above the altar depicts the court of heaven — the Trinity with Mary and Joseph below and the twelve apostles on the side. It was made in Germany and contains 90,000 pieces.

The main altar at Holy Hill Basilica

The altar rail contains two Latin texts from the Old Testament which apply to the reception of the Holy Eucharist. On the left side from the Book of Kings: “Elias ate and drank and walked in the strength of that food unto the mount of God.” And, on the right side from Jeremiah: “I have brought you into the land of Carmel to eat its fruit and the best things thereof.”

Outdoor Way of the Cross

Fourteen stations of the cross line the outside of the lower church. These almost life-size figures sculptured from Bedford stone took Josep Aszklar of Milwaukee ten years to complete.

I need help identifying the individuals in this photo. I have looked high and low for details, and I am coming up empty. Who are these people being remembered? Anyone … anyone?

** Post Update ** Thanks to our wise reader, Ruth Ann, the people in the photo have been identified! They are Blessed Zelie Martin and Blessed Louis Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux. Aha! This makes sense.

Therese of Lisieux is a patron saint of the missions. Even though she wasn’t a missionary herself, she spent much time supporting them through prayer and writing letters. A great reminder that when we feel we can do nothing, it is the little things that keep God’s Kingdom growing. There is a side chapel that serves as a confessional chapel at Holy Hill and is dedicated to the intercession of St. Therese. This “Little Flower” has a strong presence here!


And what virtual pilgrimage would be complete without a few candids?

We found a statue of Saint Jude along our journey. Our Jude is not amused.

Jude, Saint Jude

It was 100+ degrees during our visit. That ice cream cone was calling my name. The Old Monastery Inn Cafe would have made several bucks off us had they been open!


Wouldn’t you love to live near this intersection?

Holy intersection!

A random pilgrim took our picture. I will not complain. At least I’m in this one!

Das Schmidts!

And that, friends, concludes our tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Maybe this plants the seed for you and your family to consider making a domestic pilgrimage in the future? Here is a website listing many of the Catholic shrines throughout the United States.

This post is linked up at Like Mother, Like Daughter. Head over there to check out more {pretty, happy, funny, real} posts.


  1. Sue says

    We were on parallel pilgrimages. The two oldest kids and I attended Holy Mass last Sunday at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis. Wowee, wow, wow! Very much the same reaction to that beautiful structure in St. Louis as you had here. This looks gorgeous, as well. Doesn’t it just inspire you to think that some very talented people wanted to glorify God with such elegant, stately architecture? Thanks for sharing!


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