The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida is a Catholic, Marian shrine located at the Nombre de Dios Mission in St. Augustine, Florida. Originally built in 1609, is the oldest shrine in the United States and was elevated to national shrine status in 2019.
Spanish explorers, under the command of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and the spiritual chaplaincy of Fr Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, OFM, arrived in northern Florida in 1565. Grajalez celebrated there the first Mass in what would become the United States. The mission established there, Nombre de Dios, was also the first in that regard.
The settlers brought with them the Spanish devotion to Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto (“Our Lady of the Milk and Good Delivery”). The name comes from the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus, hence the reference to “la leche”—i.e., (breast) milk.
The devotion to Our Lady of La Leche was brought over from Spain in the late 1500s, and the mission grounds served as the site of the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, the first Marian shrine in the United States. The centerpiece of the shrine is a statue of the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus, which is a replica of the Our Lady of La Leche statue placed in a cathedral in Spain by Phillip III.
The original chapel was destroyed in 1728 during the British siege of St. Augustine and was rebuilt in 1875 by Bishop Augustin Verot, though it later suffered damage from a hurricane. The current ivy-covered chapel, which seats about 30 people, was built in 1914 and is a replica of previous chapels built of coquina. The shrine is a popular religious pilgrimage site, with many visitors seeking blessings and intercessions for successful pregnancy and delivery.
In October 2019, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops elevated the shrine to national shrine status. It was scheduled to receive a canonical coronation on October 10th, 2020, later rescheduled to the same date in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mission Nombre de Dios’s grounds include archaeological excavations, a historic cemetery, Marian Shrines to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Our Lady of Guadalupe, a gift shop, a bell tower, fountains, the rustic altar, mission plaques and historical markers, monuments of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and statues of Father López, St. Francis of Assissi, and St. Joseph.
History of Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida
Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida – On September 8, 1565, five ships sailed into a small cove on the coastline of what was known to the Spanish as “La Florida.” Under the command of General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, they came to the New World from Spain sent by King Philip II. They arrived in hopes of establishing a colony, securing the land for Spain, and most importantly, to convert the native American Indians to Christianity. Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, recorded the day’s events in his diary…
“On Saturday the eighth the General landed with many banners spread, to the sounds of trumpets and the salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took a cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn ‘Te Deum Laudamus.’ The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done.”
Following Menéndez’ veneration of the Cross, thus proclaiming this land in the name of God (Nombre de Dios) Father Lopez celebrated Mass at a rustic altar made of wood. The sky served as the roof for what was the first parish Mass in what is now the United States.
It was on this sacred ground that the Spanish settlers would begin devotion to Our Lady of La Leche, Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto, Mary nursing the infant Jesus. In the early 1600s, the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine established the first Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States.
Today, more than 450 years later, an image of Our Lady of La Leche – Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery – graces a small mission chapel in the heart of what is lovingly referred to as the “sacred acre.” Pilgrims come from all parts of the world to pray for her powerful intercession.
They pray for fertility, for the health of their children, for safe delivery of those expecting.Their prayers continue to be answered, and many return in thanksgiving to share with us their stories. We invite you to come join us – to stand on holy and sacred ground where our story of the conversion of hearts and the graces of Mary continues.
Architecture of Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida
The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida was built in 1609 at the mission, in what was then Spanish Florida. The central feature of the shrine is a statue of the La Leche image.
The original shrine was destroyed in 1728 by British invaders from the north, and was rebuilt in 1875. The chapel seats about 30 and was built in 1914.
The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida was elevated to national shrine status by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2019, followed by the announcement of a canonical coronation ceremony due to take place in October 2020.
As one of the oldest Catholic worship sites in the Americas, the shrine holds a certain historical significance and is a popular pilgrimage site for prayers concerning pregnancy.
Upon its coronation ceremony in October 2021, it is to become just the fourth-such image in the United States.
Our Lady of La Leche
The Virgin, Mother of the child Jesus, caring for His tender body and nourishing Him during His long months of human weakness, has inspired mothers and future mothers with the miracle of Bethlehem. The Catacombs in Rome during the second century display the Blessed Virgin Mary nourishing baby Jesus. The great museums of art in Europe contain paintings of Our Lady of the Milk and of the Good Delivery, eloquent proof of the devotion of women from all centuries to the nursing Mother of Baby Jesus.
In Madrid, there is a statue of the Virgin, Our Lady of the Milk that had been rescued from sacrilegious hands; it was kept in the home of a pious marriage. When it seemed that most likely the mother and the inborn son would die, Our Lady of the Milk heard the desperate pleadings of the husband, and granted her a joyous delivery.
Together, the couple spread the news of the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary before Our Lord to other families. Knowing of the intercession of Our Lady of the Milk, King Phillip III of Spain personally built a sanctuary in honor of her maternity. Little after, this devotion became one of the most popular in all of Spain.
In the 1620’s the Spanish colonists, as a sign of their love for the nursing Mother of Jesus Christ, established the first sanctuary dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in what is today the United States. It was established in the same place where the first Mass had been celebrated years before, at the Mission ‘Name of God’, in St. Augustine, Florida.
The rustic chapel and several others, built after were destroyed by the artillery in the first days of the colony, and later by hurricanes. The actual chapel was built in 1915, and there a replica of the rustic statue is exposed. The altar and the statue from the church of San Luis in Madrid were burnt on March 13, 1936 by the communist during the Spanish civil war.
Thousands of Mothers go to the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Milk at St. Augustine to ask for the blessing of maternity, pleading Our Lady of the Milk for her intercession, in order that God may obtain for them a good delivery, as well as joyful and pious children.
Several thousand write annually to the Priest director of the sanctuary asking that they be remembered in the Masses and prayers. Also thousands of letters are received testifying to the love of Our Lady of the Milk to her devoted and faithful children.
The admiral Spaniard Don Pedro Menendez de Avilez, general captain of the fleet to the Indies and pioneer of Florida, disembarked in this place and claimed it for Spain and for the Church. In his diary, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain priest of the expedition, wrote:
On September 8 (1565), the General disembarked displaying many flags, with the sound of trumpets and greeted the artillery. Since I had disembarked the previous night, I took the cross and I went to receive him, singing the Te Deum. The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the cross, knelt before it and kissed it. A great number of natives (Indians) observed what was taking place and then imitated what they saw.
Menendez then named the place “Name of God” and charged Father Lopez the mission. Lopez then became the first priest of St. Augustine in the United States. Here the first Mass was celebrated.
From here the missionaries evangelized the Indians and with time established almost 200 missions. To the north it extended to the bay of Chesapeake, to the south to Miami, and to the west to Pensacola. This last mission began as a petition of the Indians who sent a delegation who walked to St. Augustine to ask that missionaries be sent.
History of Our Lady of La Leche
In 1620 the chapel to Our Lady of the Milk and Good Delivery was built, the first chapel in the United States dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Till now Our Lady of the Milk and Good Delivery is venerated here.
A beautiful statue of the Virgin, tenderly nursing, is conserved in the chapel. The original statue was lost but was replaced several times. However the mothers have not ceased to come and ask for the intercession for a good delivery. In our times, marked by the horror of abortion, this sanctuary is also a place of pilgrimage to ask the Mother of God for an end to abortion.
Our Lady of La Leche, whose devotion by couples seeking a child was brought to St. Augustine by Spanish missionaries in 1577, was canonically crowned Sunday in the name of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, as representative of the Pope, placed gold crowns on the image of Our Lady of La Leche and the infant Jesus in a ceremony Sunday during a special Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine. After the Mass, Sierra and Bishop Felipe J. Estevez, leader of the Diocese of St. Augustine, escorted the image to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios. There, this new image was enthroned in the Historic Chapel.
“The mother, she is very well-known in Madrid, and for me personally, it is a special grace to be invited to the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche,” Sierra, also Archbishop of Madrid, said in an interview before the event. “The expression of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus shows the love of the mother to her child, an expression of God’s love.”
In his homily at the Mass, Sierra said, “The Church that walks in St. Augustine is aware that a mother accompanies us in the mission: Our Lady of La Leche and Happy Delivery whom we crown as Queen and Lady of all creation.”
Sierra urged attendees to ask Our Lady of La Leche and Happy Delivery for three things: To live in the joy of the Gospel; to live knowing they are children of God and brothers and sisters to all people; and to ask Mary to teach them to do as God tells them.
“The best service you can do to people is to fill your life with the same reality that Mary filled it with — full of grace, full of God,” he said.
Six hundred invited guests attended the special Mass, and a livestream of the Mass on the mission grounds drew between 1,000 and 1,200 attendees, said diocesan Communications Director Kathleen Bagg. The Mass was also livestreamed into parishes in the diocese and other places.
“The Holy Father, who with this crowning, gives the image and the devotion legitimacy and universal outreach,” said Bishop Felipe J. Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine.
The idea of a canonical coronation of Our Lady of La Leche, was suggested in the letter from the Pope giving the diocese approval of a feast day that began in 2012. Estevez will celebrate the feast day at a 6 p.m. Mass Monday at the National Shrine on San Marco Avenue.
Our Lady of La Leche is the fourth canonical coronation of an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States. The others are: Our Lady of Prompt Succor in New Orleans, 1895; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, New York City, 1904; and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 2013.
Estevez’s knowledge of couples who asked Our Lady of La Leche to help them bring a child into their lives and the devotion of Native Americans coming to St. Augustine in the 16th century motivated him to seek the canonical coronation.
“That letter in 1577 mentions the chapel of the Indians in St. Augustine and it says the Indians are coming to the chapel to venerate Our Lady of La Leche. To me, it is very significant this connection to the Native Americans who had such trauma and pain because of our disconnect with that first nation in Florida. They had a deep love for Our Lady of La Leche.”
Prayer to Our Lady of La Leche
Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, Florida – Beautiful Lady of the Milk, beloved mother of Baby Jesus and my mother, please hear my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows all of my desires, all of my needs. Only to you, Immaculate Virgin has your Divine Son made known the sentiments that fill my soul. Yours is the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Redeemer.
Intercede now to Him, my beloved Mother, so that, according to His will, I can be mother of the children the Lord desires to send me. I ask this, O Lady of the Milk, in the name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercession of Your gentle Mother, Our Lady of the Milk, who carried you close to her heart during the long months before your birth, I entrust myself into your hands. I implore you deliver me from useless and consuming worries. Accept the sacrifice of my ills and pains, which I join with your sufferings on the cross.
Above all, merciful and loving Jesus, protect from all evil this child which you have given me, bestowing upon him the health and vigor that every child needs. Place in my heart and on my lips the prayers of your Mother and mine, our beautiful Lady of the Milk. All of this I ask with the intention that my child and myself can live to adore eternally Your Holy Name. Amen.
To you, Beautiful Lady of the Milk, and to your Divine Son, I dedicate now this child that our Lord has granted me. I ask that you obtain for me the physical and spiritual graces that I need, to fulfill my duties at each moment. Inspire me with the maternal sentiments that you felt during the time that you spent with the child Jesus. Obtain that I may, imitating you, O Lady of the Milk, nourish my child in perfect health.
In all things help me to follow the example that you, perfect model of all mothers, have given me. Allow my family to reflect the virtues of the Holy Family in Nazareth. Lastly, I commend to your tender care all mothers of the world, in whose hands He has entrusted the souls of His Little ones. Amen.
Feast Day - 11th October
Annual Feast Day of Our Lady of La Leche is held on 11th October.
Church Visiting Time
101 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine,
FL 32084, Florida, United States.
Tel : +1 904-824-2809
How to reach the Shrine
Northeast Florida Regional Airport is located approximately four miles north of historic St. Augustine, in St. Johns County, Florida is the nearby Airport to the Shrine.
Palatka Train Station in Palatka, Florida is the nearby Train Station to the Shrine.