The term “wayside shrine” covers a variety of things. Essentially, it is a shrine or memorial by a road, on a trail, or atop a hill, sometimes erected in honor of someone who died nearby. If you’ve ever seen a little cross with lights by the roadside, commemorating the victim of an accident, this is a common kind of wayside shrine.
These little shrines are a modern continuation of a very old tradition. Along the byways of traditionally Catholic Europe, you’ll see many wayside shrines, some of them ancient. These shrines might be memorials to dead persons, markers on pilgrimage or travel routes, or just visible tokens of gratitude and devotion to God.
In the British Isles, we see a sort of wayside shrine in ancient Celtic or Anglo-Saxon high crosses, many of which date from the early Middle Ages and whose uses were varied. King Edward I of England loved his wife Eleanor deeply, and in the 1290s built twelve crosses to mark the route that her body took as it traveled to London for burial—wayside shrines, you might say.
In the enchanted pathways of the Austrian, German, and Italian Alps, you’ll find what might be the most classic sort of wayside shrine: a beautiful wooden monument to Our Crucified Lord, featuring a crucifix covered by a little roof. The sight of one of these shrines against the fairy-tale background of the rugged Alpine landscape is unforgettable.
Other styles of wayside shrines include miniature chapels—which resemble tiny houses and contain a little altar in a niche—and the column shrine, a simple design with a nook for a statue.
These shrines, scattered throughout Catholic Europe from north to south and east to west, are tangible reminders of faith. Perhaps they will encourage a quiet prayer from those who see them today and—especially, perhaps, in those places where religious fervor has grown cold—rekindle a bit of Europe’s ancient faith.
Even if we can’t put up our own wayside shrines, we can always keep Our Lord before our eyes. The Catholic Company offers a variety of crucifixes in many style and sizes, including this large standing crucifix, perfect for a mantlepiece, desk, or home altar. Available today at The Catholic Company!