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Our Lady of Victory Shrine prepares to celebrate 100 years

Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, one of the most magnificent churches in the United States, is approaching the 100th anniversary of its groundbreaking. The shrine was founded under the direction of Venerable Nelson Baker (1842-1936), a Union army soldier during the Civil War, businessman, diocesan priest, and, perhaps, a future canonized saint. The shrine is the nation’s second basilica, designated as such by Pope Pius XI in 1926, and it draws 40,000 visitors annually.

The shrine got its start in 1916, when the former St. Patrick’s Parish was severely damaged by fire. Father Baker, age 74 at the time, began repairs, but one day announced at a parish meeting his vision of building a shrine to rival the great cathedrals of Europe. In 1921, Father celebrated his last Mass at St. Patrick’s; the parish made way for the construction of a shrine that would cost a staggering $4 million (in 1920s dollars). Father Baker was an able fundraiser, and by the time of its completion in 1925, had completely paid for the entire edifice.

The shrine has a marble exterior—46 types and colors of marble are used throughout—with twin towers and a huge copper dome measuring 165 feet high and 80 feet in diameter. Around the dome are four, 18-foot copper angels blowing trumpets. Other key external features include a large statue of Our Lady of Victory at the main entrance. The building has 134 stained glass windows, and an interior with many beautiful works of art and magnificent architecture (a 3D tour is available online).

Commenting on the shrine, well-known church architect Duncan Stroik once noted, “The exterior is a beacon in the city, it’s a light on a hill,” and its interior “a precursor to heaven.”

“It is meant to lift you up, it’s meant to dazzle and also a sense of mystery,” Stroik said (a short film on the shrine, for which Stroik was intereviewed, can be viewed online).

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