Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Lady Madonna, Cyclists at Her Feet

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Lady Madonna, Cyclists at Her Feet

Article excerpt

PORTLAND, ORE.--Reflections of blinking white bike lights danced up and down the organ pipes inside St. Stephen's Episcopal Parish here on a recent Monday night. On the north wall, Lady Madonna had 35 bicyclists at her feet.

Pushing their bikes inside the church, the riders had escaped the autumn chill of downtown Portland. They had come to watch the Rev. Dennis Parker bless the nation's first known church shrine honoring the Madonna del Ghisallo--patron saint of cyclists.

"Creator God," Parker said as he bowed his head in a corner of the sanctuary that held four long pews, "we ask that on this day you be with us in our travels."

Like any priest of an urban parish struggling to attract new followers, Parker wouldn't normally be thrilled about tearing seats out of his sanctuary.

But in a city where the U.S. Census Bureau says 6.4 percent of commuters go by bike, Parker said the shrine ultimately will be more welcoming than the pews it replaces.

An entire section of the 83-year-old, wood-and-stone sanctuary has been set aside for bike commuters to contemplate their travels and remember those who have died while cycling.

A painting of the Madonna del Ghisallo by local artist Martin Wolfe hangs above a tree of candles where cyclists can park and sit in reflection.


Visitors, Parker said, can offer prayers in whatever spiritual tradition is most comfortable for them. "The shrine and blessings are not limited to Episcopalians or Christians," he said.

Bike blessings are nothing new at Portland area churches. Around the country, churches also hold ceremonies for other forms of transportation. Recently, a Catholic church in San Francisco splashed a long line of taxis with holy water from a specially sanctified plastic bucket.

According to the U. …

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