The Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan


Location

Sheshan Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians is located on the peak of Sheshan in Songjiang district in Shanghai. It is One of the most prominent pilgrimage shrines in China, it is well-known both far and wide in China and overseas.

History

The Catholic faith was introduced in the Songjiang district for a long time. For more than one-hundred years, when the Catholic religion was banned, Catholics had been practicing their faith underground. In 1844, a Jesuit priest Fr. Claude Gotteland, SJ, came to Sheshan and was very much impressed by the serenity and beauty of the area. He decided to build a house of prayer for the retired priests. However, he died in 1856 before his dream was realized. In 1863, his successor, Fr. Joseph Gonnet, SJ came to Sheshan. He purchased the whole hill top as well as the southern slope and began to build religious houses with a chapel half way on the slope for convalescence of missionaries. The following year, Fr. Desjacques Marin built a hexagonal pavilion for the statue of our Lady. On Mar 1 1868, Bishop Msgr. Adrien Languillat, SJ consecrated the chapel and blessed the portrait of Our Lady, Help of Christians, which was copied from Our Lady of Victory, in Paris On the feast day of Our Lady, Help of Christians, hundreds of pilgrims came and participated outside the chapel where Mass was held in a tent. During the Taiping Uprising, the Catholic Church was being attacked. In Shanghai, there were many incidents of prejudice and unrest. The Jesuit Superior Fr. A. Della Corte, SJ climbed up the mountain of Sheshan. He went in front of the statue of Our Lady and made a vow that if the area was spared in this turmoil and danger, he would build a church on the location. The prayer was heard and the diocese stood unharmed. In September 1870, he appealed to the generous Catholics to fulfill his vow and to thank our Lady for her protection.

1871, May: Bishop Languillat, SJ gave his blessings for laying the foundation stone. Six-thousand parishioners attended the solemn Mass outdoors. The project was a difficult task. The most challenging part was to move all the necessary materials to the top of the mountain, and were done by the volunteers.

1873, April 15: The new church in Gothic style was completed and inaugurated. A winding path to the peak with the fourteen Stations of the Cross were built. On May 1 of the same year, Bishop Languillat, SJ came again to celebrate the mass at Sheshan. For the whole month of May, pilgrims came from other parts of the diocese to honour Mary. For this reason, Our Lady of Sheshan was proclaimed the patron saint of the Diocese. In the first year on May 1 and 24, about fifteen-thousand people came for the Marian devotion.

In 1874, at the request of Bishop Languillat, SJ Pope Pius IX granted an indulgence to those who came to this Marian devotion during the month of May every year. In 1875, the church installed several bells, which, when rung, could be heard from far and near

1894: Zhong Shan Church (Mid-Mountain Church) was also built half way up the mountain. This was in traditional Chinese style with a capacity of five-hundred people. At the front entrance, there was a pair of Chinese sayings written to encourage pilgrims to rest a while and pray at this area before climbing more steps to pay homage to Our Lady on top of the mountain. The courtyard in front of the church had fences and stone benches which could hold over a thousand people. On the west side, threre pavilions were built to house Our Lady, The Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Joseph; they were called the “Three Holy Pavilions.”

1907: A statue of Jesus praying at the Garden of Gethsemani was erected at the beginning of the Stations of the Cross.

Reconstruction of the Church

1925: The church was found to be inadequate in size. Part of it was torn down and rebuilt. The project was designed by the architect who was a Portuguese priest. Fr. Prospero Paris, SJ blessed the foundation stone of the new church. The renovation took ten years to complete.

1935: The church was completed in November. It was 56 meters long, 25 meters wide and 17 meters high with a bell tower of 36 meters high. The interior walls were made of stones, the outside of red bricks. Part of the roof was covered in Chinese-style glazed tiles. A bronze statue of the Our Lady with Infant Jesus stood at the top of the tower. The church was consecrated by Bishop Auguste Haouisee, SJ.

1942: During the Chinese invasion by the Japanese, Pope Pius XII designated Sheshan Cathedral to be a minor Basilica, and the statue of Our Lady was crowned on May 12 of the same year. All the bishops went to the shrine for this ceremony.

1946, May 8: A special blessing was sent out by the Holy See and Our Lady was being crowned as ‘Help of Christians’. Over ten-thousand people attended the ceremony. The shrine once again became a famous place for pilgrimage.

During the Cultural Revolution, the church was badly damaged. All the stained glass was shattered. The statues and all the Stations of the Cross were also destroyed.

1981: Shanghai government returned the church to the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Shanghai undertook the renovation of the shrine. On May 24, Bishop Aloysius Zhang (張家樹) held a Mass to re-consecrate the Church. Those who attended numbered five-hundred including all the religious.

1982: On the southern slope of Sheshan, a Seminary was built for the seminarians to further their studies. In the month of Mary, pilgrims flocked towards the shrine. Information centers were set up and there were various activities for catechism and hymn-chanting.



2000:
Donations were made to raise funds to remake the statue of the Madonna and the Infant Jesus (Our Lady, Help of Christians). On April 18, Bishop Aloysius Jin gave his blessing to the finished statue. There was a procession to welcome Our Lady and Jesus into the church. Thousands of people attended and offered all of China to the Holy Mother and her Son in heaven. From then on, pilgrims started pouring into the basilica. Visitors would start their pilgrimage by going to Zhong Shan Church to pray. After walking the Stations of the Cross, they would proceed to Mass in the basilica. After Mass, they returned to the “Three Holy Pavilions” for prayer which would make their journey more complete and satisfying.
 

The Image of Our Lady of She Shan

1942: This was a statue of bronze with a height of 3.87 meters. Both of her hands were up at an angle and holding the Infant Jesus right on top of her head which was slightly inclined with her gentle and merciful eyes so that one would feel her love for the faithful. Hail Holy Queen "…valley of tears. Turn then, O most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us." Her humility in obedience to God was fully clothed in this artwork of superb beauty. Jesus had His hands fully stretched to the side in symbolism of His holy cross on Calvary conquering death in His resurrection. Both Jesus and His mother were on top of the serpent who was under the feet of the Virgin Mary. The serpent’s head tilted upward with angry and fearful eyes. Both of his fangs, wings and the tail were struggling under the pressure of Our Lady’s feet. It was unfortunate that the original statue was destroyed. However, this was remade in later decades.


Our Lady of Sheshan:
The Meaning of the Elements of the Original Statue


On the top of the tower is the statue of Our Lady cast in bronze standing about 5.49 meters high and weighing about 1400 kilograms. Our Lady held Child Jesus high about her head, with Jesus stretching out his hands like a cross. Unfortunately, this statue was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution; only the dragon at the base of the statue remained.

The status was so special and had such a beautiful shape, that from the late 80s to now, many places have been making reproductions of the statue of Our Lady of Sheshan. At the same time, because of her significance, the statues made of the tree resin from Tushan Bay of Shanghai were made only for exports.

In 2000, the Shanghai Diocese rededicated the Sheshan Basilica Church and a new statue was erected on top of the bell tower once again. In 2008, because of Pope Benedict XVI personally wrote the "Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan," the respect and enthusiasm of this statue reached an unprecedented level.


Child Jesus:

Child Jesus with arms extended straight, symbolizes the passion of Jesus on the Cross, overcoming death with His resurrection, also manifests to the world his love and blessing to man. Looking from a distance Child Jesus with open arms appears like cross-shaped, and Our Lady is holding high the cross (Jesus) overcoming the devil (the dragon).

Our Lady:

With Our Lady holding the Child Jesus high over her head, it looks like the Chinese character “Luck.” Therefore some people called the statue “Our Lady of Luck.” The eyes of Our Lady are looking downwards, an expression of love towards her people in the valley of tears. Our Lady have indeed been a good mother caring for her children. (On August 13, 1937 the Japanese attacked Shanghai. By early November, the Japanese had landed at Jinshanwei, crossing Songjiang and reached Sheshan. On the night of November 9, a fierce battle took place near Sheshan. The villagers sought refuge at Sheshan, and the Sheshan Basilica became the temporary refugee camp. After the battle, more than sixteen-hundred corpses were found at the bottom of Sheshan. For those staying at the mountain only one person was injured, and the remaining people were all safe. People attributed this to the special protection of Our Lady of Sheshan.)

The Dragon:

The dragon was firmly subdued by Our Lady and Jesus. Although it tried to struggle with its fierce looking posture, it is totally submitted to Our Lady. With its wings almost erect up and its tail coiled, it shows the shape of a last-ditch struggle. The twist of the tail as a result of two curls ends with a shape of a trident (which is one of the common symbols of the devil in Western Art).

In summary, we can admire the talent of the sculptor of the original statue. He showed a strong theological creativity in his artistic expression.

Pope Benedict XVI loved China and he made an announcement that he had composed a special prayer for Our Lady of She Shan. He also designated May 24 to be a special day to pray for China. To show appreciation for his affection for the country, a statue of Our Lady of Sheshan was made as a gift to the Pope. All the people in China prayed for His Holiness on all his journeys of faith and especially when he attended the ceremony for 150 years' anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady in Lourdes. Our Lady of Sheshan holding up her Son with his arms stretched out is a symbol of love towards all of humanity. Let us ask Our Lady to help us, especially all Catholic Christians, to bring our testimony of love in connection with this chosen corner stone of St. Peter to be known by all.

Our Lady of China, Mother of Asia,
pray for us now and forever. Amen.

 

Reference: Father. Anh Thu Tran (John the Baptist),C.S.J.B., Marian Shrines in China, Published by St. Francis Xavier Church (Chinese Community),Vancouver, BC. Canada,2009.

Address: St Francis Xavier Parish, 428 Great Northern Way, Van.,BC,V5T 4S5,Canada, Tel 1-(604)254-2727, E-mail address: jbtat@yahoo.com

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