The much-lauded American Catholic author, Walker Percy, foresaw in his 1971 novel, Love in the Ruins, a future gathering of Catholics in this lovely and peaceful Valley, turning it into a type of Catholic sanctuary in a post-Christian nation. The entire Shenandoah Valley, immortalized in story and song, stretches along 200 miles of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, but we will concentrate on the northern 30 miles in and around Warren County, Virginia.
The Valley has been cultivated for centuries, and is now home to a number of organic farms where legacy breeds of livestock and vegetables are raised and sold “farm to table” — a culinary treat. And many family-run wineries dot the countryside, producing fine wines from locally-grown grapes.
It is a land with a rich history, dating back to pre-Revolutionary days. The northern Shenandoah Valley was, in fact, surveyed by the young George Washington himself! The famed Shenandoah River, whose name in Algonquian means “Daughter of the Stars,” winds through the Valley. Nearby is also the northern end of the mountainous, 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, and the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and its stunning vistas and mountain pathways.
The Valley is a land of faith: there is an unusually strong Catholic presence here for an area situated squarely in the “Bible Belt.” Besides the Catholic churches and institutions in the immediate area (including the historic St. John the Baptist Chapel, built in the Civil War era), there are national Catholic shrines, monasteries and basilicas within easy driving distance for day trips.
For example, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is located an hour away amid a cluster of beautiful and spiritually significant sites in Emmitsburg, Maryland, including the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and the church established in 1807 as “St. Mary’s-on-the-Hill.” Our visit there will immerse us in the rich Catholic history of our country as we encounter the dedicated religious who conduct tours of the shrines — and perhaps the docents in period dress who bring to life the growth of the Catholic Church in 19th-century America.
In Washington, D.C., just over an hour’s drive from the Valley, more Catholic sites await, including the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the St. John Paul II National Shrine, and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.
And, in the true Inside the Vatican Pilgrimage style, we will have many profound and touching encounters along the path of our pilgrimage – tea with cloistered nuns on a mountain top, hikers walking along the majestic Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, dining with young Catholic farm workers who come from across the country to intern at a well-known Catholic organic farm, with live music and spiritual reflections by monks from a local monastery.
We invite you to come to this beautiful Valley and see for yourself what Walker Percy envisioned when he called the Shenandoah Valley a place to enjoy “the goodness of God.”