THE PONTIFICAL SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL

Welcome, dear visitors to Our Lady.

A place of Peace, A place of Spiritual Comfort, A place of Answered Prayers

Dedicated to Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel in the traditions of St. Vincent Pallotti

Dear visitors to Our Lady.

Ours is a special honor to be associated with the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. For 132 years now, pilgrims have undertaken the journey to East Harlem. Some come in fervent hope that their petitions will be heard. Some come in humble gratitude for the many prayers that Jesus answers through the intercession of Our Lady. Some come to sit and talk to Our Lady. To this very day, they flock by the thousands during July to celebrate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, many still entering on their knees, with novenas, processions and special masses. Our magnificent Shrine church is overflowing with their entreaties. Such a far cry from, yet with the same fervor, as the original Italian immigrants, men and women, who with dedication fueled by love of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, built this edifice, brick by brick, during the nights of 1884.


In 1903, Pope Leo XIII, ordered the Canons of the Basilica of St. Peter, to investigate this increasing devotion and evaluate it. Based on their very favorable reports, he ordered that the Statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the Infant, She holds be crowned with full solemnity. He as Pope (hence the title Pontifical), also raised the church to the status of a “Sanctuario”, or Shrine to Our Lady. Pope St. Pius X promulgated this decree after Leo’s death. The Statue was solemnly crowned on July 10th 1904. Succeeding Popes have granted many privileges to Our Shrine.


Likewise our Feast continues to grow. For many years a Shrine for all the Italians in the new world, the Feast now is multi ethnic and cultural. A significant new wave of immigrants from Haiti have joined the Italians each year.  Their numbers are augmented by Latino’s of all areas, Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, etc. Many Asians from the Philippines, China, Korea and Vietnam also have arrived. Our Lady belongs to all who need Her. But all of the privileges, all of the entreaties from the devotees, would be for naught, without the favor of the Blessed Mother who lovingly looks down upon Her faithful here. 

Please enter our site, visit, learn more about us, pray and honor Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

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Around 1880, East Harlem was the center of immigration from southern Italy. These poor people left family, language and culture behind them. But they did carry their religious fervor with them. They longed for some comfort from home. Gradually a group of men, formed themselves into the Mount Carmel Society, to hold a religious “Festa” or Feast to Our Lady. This was to be similar to the many festivals of Italy. In a very humble setting, the men and their families venerated a painting of Our Lady, prayed a Rosary in Her honor as no priests were available for Mass, and celebrated the Lady. Gradually word of the devotion began to attract pilgrims. The Society felt enabled to replace the painting with a Statue of Our Lady, the one enshrined in our church today. Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, realized the need for a church for this community and invited the Italian, German and English speaking Pallottine Fathers to construct such. The Pallottines sent the very able Father Kirner, who raised the money, bought the land and supervised the construction. The Statue was eventually purchased from the Society for an exorbitant-for the times- $100.00!  The area selected for construction was surrounded by the East Harlem “Little Italy” then the largest in the US, with some earlier Germans who had moved north from Yorkville.  One must also remember, Italians were not always welcome in other Catholic churches. In fact, they often had to worship in the basements of established Catholic churches, as they were “too rough”, or “unclean”, or unable to “understand” the preaching at main Masses. Many times, these basements did not provide chairs or kneelers for the congregants. Mt Carmel, as a parish, was born to attend to their spiritual needs. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was declared the original Italian National Shrine Parish in the United States. It long has provided spiritual comfort, and a sense of home for the Italian Community.  The church was built at night during 1884 by Italian men, who had finished a hard day’s work. The women, so devoted to the Blessed Mother, prepared food, carried bricks and even helped push the wheel barrows. Each had a private reason, some asked for a favor, some worked in Thanksgiving: All saw their work as prayer. Unfortunately, dear Father Kirner, so devoted to our Shrine lost his life, during the construction of the first parish school, when an unfinished wall collapsed upon him. It is important to remember that Mt. Carmel became the center of Italians in New York City. Gradually, celebrations of the many towns of Southern Italy, the Madonna Incoronata, Madonna Addolorata, Saints Cosmo and Damiano, San Felice, St. Joseph, St. Anthony, Santa Elena di Laurino, etc. were added to the yearly celebrations held at the Shrine. In the current years, devotions of other ethnics, such as the Virgin of the Cloud from Ecuador, Our Lady of Providence from Puerto Rico, Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico, and Santa Nino from the Philippines have become at home here.


During 1902 and 03, Pope Leo XIII ordered the Canons of the Basilica of St. Peter to investigate the growing devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New York City. Following their extensive work and documentation, Leo declared the honor of Papal Incoronation be given to Our Lady.  In 1904, Pope St. Pius X, seeing the approval of Pope Leo XIII who had just passed on, ordered that the image of the Madonna be given the right to wear a golden crown along with the Infant Jesus in Her arms. This was done in recognition of the graces received, and prayers answered at the Shrine. Papal Incoronation is an extremely rare ceremony in Catholicism. We were the third Marian Shrine so honored in the New World. So impressed with the study from the Canons, and Leo’s wishes, Pius sent two emeralds from the Vatican coffers for the crowns. Plenary Indulgences are also attached for visits to the Shrine during the Feast. Various Popes, through Pius XII raised the status of the church with its crowned Madonna, to a Sanctuary, or Pontifical (by virtue of the Pope’s decree) Shrine to Our Lady.Special discussion must be given to the Statue, the crowns and the garments.


The Statue itself is not made in a cold lifeless sense. Rather it is more of a young woman, warm, beautiful and maternal, with womanly features. She is a bit tall, with the pedestal and crown reaching over six feet. The original dress was adorned with pieces of jewelry, watches and rings. These were given in gratitude by the faithful. These gifts are called “ex voto” in Latin. The gifts still occur periodically. The dress and mantle being replaced several times due to wear, have evolved to be of the finest silk and satin. Carefully chosen couturiers execute their construction and fitting. Under the terms necessary for Incoronation, the crowns had to be gold. Originally, an Italian Count by the name of Sforsa, had donated funds in the middle ages to accomplish this. However by 1904, these had been exhausted. This left the financial burden for the crowns to the poor immigrants of the parish. Many wedding rings, earrings and bracelets and other artifacts were gladly given to be melted for the crowns. Larger pieces, including rubies and diamonds, were fixed, along with Pius X’s emeralds into the crowns. The hair is set and combed periodically. While some may suspect this display, the faithful would not have it any other way. A devoted core of parishioners, drawn from the church societies and devotees, assist the priests in the care of the Madonna.In 2015, the Statue, garments and hair were restored at the initiation of the church officers and societies. An artist worked privately on Statue, utilizing all original components. The Lady is still the original one who came 132 years ago. A team of designers, selected by the restoration committee, attended to an enhanced and magnificent new dress and mantle. A new hair piece now completes restoration. It is pleasing to us that never once did the Madonna leave Her faithful. While not on view, She remained in seclusion on the premises. We are grateful to the many who donated for this, and to the artisans who gave freely of their labor. The Statue of Our Lady, affectionately known as “the original Mount Carmel”, “the real Mount Carmel”, “A Madonn du Carm” (in the Italian dialects of southern Italy), “Ma Mere du Mont Carmel” (in French/Creole) or just “Momma”, is now venerated by all Catholics. Thousands of Haitian pilgrims, Latino devotees, and Asian ethnics join in Great Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16thThere had been some negative talk, that given the so called bad reputation sections of New York were getting in the 80’s and 90’s, that perhaps the time of the Lady was passing. Nothing of that was ever true. Thousands of pilgrims continue to visit Our Lady during the warm month of July. They attend the many language novenas, processions, devotions and special Masses held almost around the clock on July 16th. Over 8,000 attended Feast day Masses alone, with many, many more in the processions and other devotions. The Madonna remains the subject of books, TV news and special radio shows. During the year, many visitors make their way to us, usually on weekends. Sometimes, they are descendants of original parishioners who return to honor their particular devotion with a special Mass. Some are Marian groups who arrange tours. Otherwise, they attend the Saturday Mass and devotions. On the first Saturday of the month, this Mass is celebrated in Extraordinary Rite Latin, especially for the traditional and Haitian communities. On the third Saturday, this Mass is said in French, with a more charismatic focus. The people leave, often stopping by our religious articles gift shop to purchase a desired item. They return at 3 for the Multi Language Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Anticipated Sunday Masses follow in English and Spanish. A typical Feast pilgrim arrives on July 6th, with the beginning of the novenas. We urge all to visit the Feast schedule page as it showcases the many events, as they are more than can be described here. Special notice should be taken of the Midnight Mass of Mount Carmel. The Feast is an extremely glorious spiritual devotion in honor of Our Lady. The pilgrimages, in response to the spiritual comfort given by Our Lady, grow each year. Our Lady draws them all under the mantle of Her Maternal Protection. Regina, décor Carmeli: ora pro nobis-O Queen of Mount Carmel, pray for us.

Timeline

1880-1881 Beginnings of Festa in New York by Private Mount Carmel Society

1883 Statue ordered from Italy to replace paper painted image

1884 Church built by Pallottine Fathers (Father Kirner) during the night by local residents, ownership of statue transferred to church. Statue enshrined in lower church.

1902-1903 Due to immense devotion, and favors granted at Shrine, Canons of St. Peter’s Basilica, at behest of Leo XIII, conduct investigation and declare Image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, be formally incoronated (crowned with a golden crown). Leo orders it done, but dies before finalization. Pope St. Pius X reviews decree and publishes it under his name. To truly show his support for the coronation, he sends two emeralds from the Vatican to be fitted into the crown.

1904 Image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is crowned on July 10th, making it the third formal incoronation outside of Europe. Shrine is ranked in the incoronation decree as a Sanctuary to Our Lady

1906 Pius X grants plenary indulgence in perpetuity from July 6th -23rd.

1923-24 Pius XI approves transfer of the Sanctuary to upper church, affirming the status of Sanctuary (major Marian Shrine)

1953 Pope Pius XII declares high altar of the Sanctuary a privileged major Marian altar.

2004 Special 100th anniversary public reenactment of the coronation

2015 Complete artistic and physical restoration of the Crowned Madonna, including Statue, dress and hair.