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Ramón Marquez, Grotto at St. Mary's Parish

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Visiting Information

Located at St. Mary's Parish

About the Artist/Site

Gilroy, California has always had a large Mexican community, and many of these residents have worshipped at St. Mary’s Parish church. At the northwest corner of the rear of the church was a small shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe; the image of the Virgin, surmounting a pile of rocks, was sheltered by a simple gabled roof supported by thin pillars.

By around 1967, the Parish had decided to develop and enhance the shrine, expanding it both laterally and in height. The rock for the shrine was donated by a retreat house in San Juan Bautista, some 14 miles away, and it took several days to haul all the rocks to St. Mary’s. Although the parish had contracted with a company to build the shrine, after scrutinizing the material they decided that the rock was not “workable” and they refused to continue with the project. The priest, asked by church president Fernando Rodríguez what they would do next, told his parishioners simply to find someone else, and Ramón Marquez volunteered; he said he had been prompted by the Holy Spirit to undertake the responsibility.  Some, including Rodríguez, were skeptical, but the priest committed to Marquez’s vision.

Marquez designed and built the entire grotto, although Frank Valdivia built the accompanying planters, using the same rock that was used in the shrine itself. Marquez was not paid for his work – he said that for him it was a labor of love.

Marquez had been born in New Mexico to parents of Mexican origin who were trying to escape the reign of Pancho Villa; however, soon after, the family returned to Chihuahua, Mexico, where the young Ramón was raised. With barely a high school education, he immigrated with his wife María Baquera and family to the United States in 1956, and settled in Gilroy in 1959. In total, there were thirteen children, although two passed away when young from pneumonia. A jack-of-all trades and always a hard worker, Marquez’s primary job was to maintain St. Mary’s Church, including the cemetery, where he also dug graves. The rest of the family worked the fields every summer to help provide the wherewithal for survival.

Fundraisers, which included dinner dances featuring the parish’s youth dancing the Baile de los Viejitos (The Dance of the Old Men), helped the parish pay for the materials necessary for the construction of the grotto.  Annual processions on December 12 in honor of the Virgin and retellings of the story in which she revealed herself in an apparition to the young Juan Diego in Mexico strengthened the link of the parish to their patron saint.

The mosaic of the Virgin itself, fabricated in Italy, was not ready by the time Marquez had completed his work, so a two-dimensional image of the Virgin was pasted onto the center panel until it was finished and mounted.  The grotto has remained an important part of the parish since its completion, and continues to be an important site for prayer and reflection.

~Jo Farb Hernández





Map and site information

11 1st Street
Gilroy, California, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 37.015031 / -121.573127

Visiting Information

Located at St. Mary's Parish

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