The much-lauded American Catholic author, Walker Percy, foresaw in his 1971 novel, Love in the Ruins, a future gathering of Catholics in the lovely and peaceful Shenandoah Valley, turning it into a type of Catholic sanctuary in a post-Christian nation. The entire 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, cultivated for centuries, is now home to 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.
The Shenandoah Valley is also a land of faith: there is an unusually strong Catholic presence here for an area situated squarely in the “Bible Belt.” Besides the Catholic 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 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 1807 “St. Mary’s-on-the-Hill” church. Dedicated religious conduct tours of the shrines — and docents in period dress bring to life the growth of the Catholic Church in 19th-century America.
And, in true Inside the Vatican Pilgrimage style, we will have profound and inspiring encounters along the way – tea with cloistered nuns on a mountain top, conversations with hikers in Shenandoah National Park, or dining with young workers interning at a Catholic organic farm, with live music and spiritual reflections by monks from a local monastery.