Annual ratings for summer travel includes a special place of peace.
At the beginning of the summer vacation season, Smithsonian Magazine annually publishes a list of the 15 Best Small Towns in America to Visit. Topping this year’s list is Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the site of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy.
For Smithsonian, the big draw for Stockbridge is the Norman Rockwell Museum, an institution celebrating an artist who is one of the best portrayers of small-town America. The museum this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“Tucked into the lush Berkshire Hills 130 miles west of Boston, Stockbridge began its days as a mission town for Mohicans—a past that lives on in the colonial-era Mission House museum—and flourished during the Gilded Age, when it became a summer getaway for the wealthy,” Smithsonian writes.
What the magazine failed to note is that the mission was originally on Eden Hill, a 350-acre property that the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary purchased in 1943 to use as a novitiate.
“Before the Marians moved in, many families of the Berkshires donated furniture and funds to make the first years unfold successfully,” according to the website of the Divine Mercy Shrine. “A community chapel was established in the new home with a ‘side altar’ dedicated to The Divine Mercy. As the number of pilgrims to Eden Hill increased, a larger community chapel was needed.”
In 1950, the construction of the Shrine of The Divine Mercy was entrusted to Antonio Guerrieri, a 74-year-old resident of Stockbridge. He had just completed the restoration of St. Joseph’s Church in Stockbridge when the Marians called him to build their new Shrine. Guerrieri was a well respected master furniture maker and wood carver—crafts for which he had been trained in his native Italy. He had also established a reputation as a restorer, designer, and builder—all skills which he had taught himself.
In 1960, 10 years after the Marians first broke ground, the Shrine to The Divine Mercy was dedicated. It’s incredible that Guerrieri completed the construction of the church with no blueprints—everything was inside his head. It’s also interesting to know, in this year when we have celebrated the 75th anniversary of several key events in the Second World War—D-Day; the destruction of Monte Cassino; the liberation of Paris—that many war refugees were engaged in the construction of the Divine Mercy shrine.
Inside the church, visitors can admire Guerrieri’s woodcarvings as well as 36 stained glass windows and two mosaics portraying the mercy of God through Scripture, and of course the image of Divine Mercy that was revealed to the Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska.
For anyone seeking a taste of small-town America, Stockbridge is a good choice, both in its current form and in the ways Norman Rockwell immortalized it. And for anyone seeking a peaceful retreat, especially where one can meditate on God’s great mercy, a side trip to Eden Hill is not a bad idea.