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Trustees work to save unique Shrine to Our Lady of Siluva

Few people know that there is a unique shrine to the Blessed Virgin overlooking Highway 64 through East St. Louis.

The shrine of Our Lady of Siluva is located in the church yard of Immaculate Conception Lithuanian Catholic Church, East St. Louis, the East European-style church with the uncommon steeple that is clearly visible from the highway.

Trustees of Immaculate Conception Lithuanian Catholic Church are in the process of raising funds to restore the church’s shrine to Our Lady of Siluva. The shrine, which stands between the former school and the church, was a place where school children once performed various ancient Lithuanian rituals like the crowning of the sculpture.

“It meant a lot to the congregation, and still does,” says Trustee Bill Yakstis.
The shrine was built and dedicated in 1951, to celebrate the 700-anniversary of Christianity coming to Lithuania. Our Lady of Siluva (which means the pine woods) is a Roman Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary located in Siluva, Lithuania. The icon is highly venerated in Lithuania and is often called “Lithuania’s greatest treasure.”

The town of Siluva and its shrine to the virgin is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Lithuania. The ancient tradition of the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, popularly called “Silines,” is still celebrated every September 8.

The base of the local shrine is made of stone from the original Lithuanian church which was built in 1895 and burned down in 1943. The statue itself was made in Italy, while the wrought iron canopy was made by craftsmen from East St. Louis. The shrine is also covered by a traditional Lithuanian metal cross of the type common at the historic Lithuanian cemeteries.

According to Church history, an apparition of the Virgin Mary occurred at Siluva in 1608, after which a chapel was built on the site. The chapel has since become the scene of many miracles.

Yakstis says the local shrine has seen better days. He and other trustees would like to replace the crumbling concrete on which the shrine stands, strip and paint the canopy, paint the statue, and repair the rusted wrought iron of the canopy.

While the church was designated a chapel in 2014, under the Mother Church of St. Augustine of Hippo Parish, East St. Louis, parishioners still celebrate Mass there every Sunday at 11 a.m. Usually between 35 and 40 people attend Mass, Yakstis says. On special occasions, like the annual Fall Festival, as many as 150 people may crowd into Immaculate Conception Church. The church itself is a strikingly beautiful example of Lithuanian-American romantic architecture. Designed by Jonas Mulokas, it boasts striking stained-glass windows created by Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas; the chapel features a beautiful, ethnic Lithuanian wood-carved altar by the famous artist Petras Vebra.

The parish once had a thriving Catholic school which opened in 1934, closed in 1968, and burned in 1976. Arson was suspected.

Located in a poor section of southern Illinois, Immaculate Conception Church also faced its share of problems with crime: two of the Lithuanian sun-crosses that have adorned the roof had to be removed after there was an attempt to steal them. They now rest in a safer place near the basement stairs. More recently the steeple blew over and had to be repaired.

The trustees are offering a piece of that original steeple to donors. They have created a keepsake memento, made from the original copper of the steeple, that has been salvaged and logo embossed and mounted on a stained oak centerpiece. Donors may choose between patina or polished copper. While any contribution is welcomed, anyone who contributes $150 or more to the restoration of the shrine will receive this limited production keepsake memento.

Trustees work to save unique Shrine to Our Lady of Siluva
Contact Frank Dorris III (fdorris3@gmail.com) or Bill Yakstis (byakstis@att.net or 314-600-5741) for details.

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