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All This & Heaven Too
If you’ve driven east on the Long Island Expressway, you may have missed it. Or, you may have seen the blue sign that reads “Attractions at Exit 70” and dismissed the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island listed underneath it as some kind of roadside gathering of religious statues on a street corner.
But winding through 70 acres of the Pine Barrens in Eastport, these peaceful paths seem more suited to a pilgrimage in the mountains of Spain, not sandwiched between two parades of weekenders heading out to the Hamptons. But here they are, completely silent except for a few birds calling back and forth in the trees above, a sanctuary that draws believers from all over to Long Island.
At the end of the path is a man-made cavern with an empty pine box in the middle under a sign that reads, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
On one side a quarter-mile path is lined with the Stations of the Cross, wooden kneelers and codes that can be punched into your cell phone for a personal guided tour. A woman in the distance walks alone, stops to kneel at each one, and eventually disappears into the woods.
Another woman holds a Bible and sits next to a small garden and a statue of the Virgin Mary, the entrance to the Rosary Walk, with 150 bushes sculpted into beads that end in a hedge shaped into a cross.
About a mile down the road a man strolls along the Avenue of Saints, where gifts like miniature statues, flowers and rosary beads are left at the feet of immortalized saints.
There’s a chapel, an area for an outdoor mass, a coffee shop and a gift shop. But all of this leads to the main attraction, a towering statue of the Virgin Mary, “the Lady of the Island,” perched on a massive boulder.The shrine is Long Island through and through. The land was donated to the Montfort Missionaries by Crescenzo and Angelina Vigliota, Sr. in 1953 for a shrine to honor Mary. In 1957 the Harrisons of East Moriches gifted the rock and surrounding areas overlooking Moriches Bay. In 1975 the 18-foot statue of Mary and Jesus, designed by Rafael Desoto of Patchogue, was gifted by the Vigliotta family.
The grounds also include a huge replica of the Pieta, the Holy Stairs—a massive concrete staircase leading to a likeness of Jesus on the Cross. Candles, left by past visitors, are still lit, and along the ledge there are messages written on stone. Some are prayers, some are pleas for healing. Others offer messages to the dead. More notes written in ink and marker cover the sign. And others simply offer words of gratitude like this one: “Thanks for everything —Justin.”
On July 10 beginning at 10 a.m. the shrine will host the National Pilgrim Virgin Statue – World Apostolate of Fatima, a wooden hand-carved Image of Our Lady of Fatima given to the United States by the Bishop of Fatima in 1967, blessed by Pope Paul VI and crowned by Cardinal O’Boyle in the National Basilica in Washington, D.C., to spread the message of Fatima, which began in the summer of 1916 with the first apparition to three shepherd children by the Angel of Peace in Fatima, Portugal.