Basilica de San Juan Shrine
They come from far and near, over a million visitors each year. They have come to pray, to sing, to worship or to marvel at a place ordained by a Pope and credited with miracles, the Basilica de San Juan del Valle Shrine near McAllen.
The Shrine’s history begins in 1920, when Reverend Alfonso Jalbert constructed a small wooden chapel in San Juan, Texas as a mission church of St. Margaret Mary Church in Pharr. The devotion to Our Lady of San Juan has its roots in San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico, a town founded near Guadalajara following the Spanish conquest of Mexico. In the church of San Juan de los Lagos, Spanish missionaries erected a small image of the Immaculate Conception.
An acrobat traveling with his wife and children stopped in San Juan de los Lagos to perform in 1623. The youngest daughter lost her balance and was killed while performing their act. As her bereaved parents prepared to bury her, the church’s caretaker brought the image of the Virgin Mary to them and begged the parents to place the image over their daughter’s body and pray for the Virgin’s intercession. The child was brought back to life after the Virgin’s image was placed over his or her body. As word of the miracle spread, devotion to Our Lady, known as “La Virgen de San Juan,” grew throughout Jalisco. She is now well-known throughout Mexico and the United States.
Rev. Jose Maria Azpiazu was appointed pastor of the parish of St. John the Baptist in San Juan in 1949. He commissioned an artist in Guadalajara, Mexico, to make a replica of the statue venerated at San Juan de Los Lagos after receiving permission from the bishop to promote devotion to Our Lady of San Juan.
Several myths have emerged over the years concerning Father Azpiazu’s visit to San Juan de los Lagos and Guadalajara. According to legend, after visiting San Juan de Los Lagos, Azpiazu and a parishioner drove to Guadalajara to order a replica of the statue. The car slid off the road as they were driving to San Juan de Los Lagos and singing a new hymn that Azpiazu had taught them. Martinez recalls that after resuming their journey, they ran out of gas and came across a small ranch where a couple gave them enough gas to get to the next town.
The couple also left a gift for the abbot of the San Juan de los Lagos shrine. When they returned to find the ranch, Martinez claims they couldn’t find it because there was nothing there. According to Father Azpiazu, Our Lady had placed the family there to assist them in their quest and that “she wanted us to do something special for her.”
According to Martinez, the experience deepened Father Azpiazu’s devotion to the Mother of God for her intercession and protection, and he returned even more determined to build a sanctuary in Texas honoring Our Lady of San Juan. The statue of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle was originally housed in the San Juan chapel, but was relocated to a new chapel when it was built in 1954. Other facilities were built around the shrine over the next ten years, including a convent for Sisters and a school in 1955, a rectory and a pilgrim house in 1958, a retreat house in 1961, a cafeteria in 1963, and a nursing home in 1964.
After 21 years of expanding the shrine complex and developing it into an important pilgrimage site, Father Azpiazu retired in 1970.
On October 23, 1970, sixteen years after its construction, a tragic event destroyed the entire shrine. While 50 priests were concelebrating Mass with another 50 people in attendance and 100 schoolchildren in an adjacent cafeteria, the pilot of a small low-flying plane crashed into the shrine’s roof and exploded into flames. While the total loss was estimated to be $1.5 million, many people believe it was a miracle that no one was injured or killed in the disaster. Francis B. Alexander, the plane’s pilot, was the only one killed. At the time, Our Lady of San Juan was guarding her children. In addition, Father Patricio Dominguez, O.M.I., a missionary priest, and a sacristan rescued the Blessed Sacrament and statue of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle and carried them to safety before the altar caught fire.
Interior walls of Mexican marble were lost, as were marble altars; a copy of El Greco’s masterpiece of the Trinity; hand-carved statues; 14 hand-carved Stations of the Cross imported from Germany; beautiful stained glass windows; a marble railing and baptismal font imported from Spain; a life-sized crucifix carved in wood by Julio Beobide, the same artist who created the crucifix for the Valley of the Fallen monument in Spain; and giant murals
After the shrine was destroyed, the statue of Our Lady of San Juan was temporarily housed in the shrine’s dining room.
In November 1972, Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick separated the administration of the shrine from the parish. He planned to construct a parish church on the site of the destroyed shrine, as well as a larger church to serve as the shrine on the grounds north of the former shrine. On November 27, 1976, the new shrine’s foundation was laid.
On April 19, 1980, the new shrine, which seats 3,500 people, was dedicated. Cardinal Medeiros and Bishop Fitzpatrick were among the 50,000 people who attended the dedication. The 14 Stations of the Cross are featured on the beautifully landscaped grounds, and a 45-foot mosaic on the exterior of the shrine was completed in 1995. The mosaic, which depicts Jesus presenting his Mother to the Valley, is visible from Expressway 83.
Basilica Of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle – National Shrine
400 Virgen de San Juan Blvd
San Juan, TX 78589