I knew that it would be tough for me to go 15 hours or so in the car without another driver, so I scheduled a night in Hanceville, Alabama. It was only 3 1/2 hours from my sister's home, and perhaps it may have been wiser to travel another few hours before stopping, but Hanceville is the home of the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament built by Mother Angelica, and I wanted to see it.
The EWTN website has limited information and only a few small pictures, so I was unprepared for the glorious beauty that awaited me. This photo is from their website and photography is not permitted inside for the average visitor. This morning I found this site with an online tour and great information about the architecture and building of the shrine.
Fortunately for me, The Kitchen Madonna graciously kept an eye on my children as they played in the piazza so that I could have ten minutes of quiet prayer. I glanced at my watch and realized it was just turning 3 pm, so I did the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It was so very peaceful and such a pleasant pause in my wonderful, family-packed vacation. I was completely unaware of the tragedy that had occurred earlier in the day in Blacksburg, Virginia and offer that time of prayer to the victims and their families.
Here, Jenny is walking toward the Castle San Miguel which houses the gift shop.
My time at the shrine was brief due to the age of my travel partners, but I've learned over the years not to put my life on hold while I wait for them to grow up. All told, I probably only spent an hour on the shrine's property, but like a nibble of some delicious new food, I am not left with disappointment but rather with anticipation for some future journey with more time and older people. I recommend a trip to the shrine or at least a detour in your other plans to spend some soul-refreshing moments here.
And when you get here, you will need a place to sleep. I stayed at one of the guest houses recommended by EWTN's website: the Saint Michael Guesthouse. It would be impossible for me to say enough nice things about this place. I called Jeanette, the manager, to alert her to my imminent arrival (having dropped the dog off at a local vet who boarded her for the night) and to get specific directions, and she informed me the door was open and the key was on the table. Indeed it was, and had she not been getting trash ready for the local pickup the next morning, I would not have met this lovely lady. The invoice on the table instructed me to leave the payment and the key there before checking out.
I have stayed at a wide range of motels, hotels, rented cabins, time share condos, American B&Bs and European pensions in my life, and this house was the most comfortable and pleasant place in which I have spent the night. The generous front porch had two rockers from which you could enjoy the country breezes. In the rear was a deck shaded by trees and glimpses of the shrine farm just beyond. The house is modern with all new appliances and fixtures and is filled with new, comfortable and nice furniture - not bargain basement leftovers or roadside rescues as many rental homes seem to have - and is decorated with plenty of religious art.
The generous, country, eat-in kitchen was fully stocked with utensils for the grill on the back deck, pots, pans, bowls, a full-sized coffee maker (Krups) and more than enough plates, glasses, coffee mugs, and flatware to service a large family. There were even salad dressing and other condiments in refrigerator, coffee, sugar and creamer in the cupboard and a huge, chocolate bar for us to share as our dessert. The bathrooms had shampoo, conditioner and body wash - not trial sizes, but regular sizes left for anyone to use.
They may call themselves a guest "house," but really this place is a guest "home." I felt as if someone had said, "Here, stay at my place for the night," and cleared out their most personal possessions only. It was not impersonal or generic in any way but in all ways was warm, inviting and friendly. Without a doubt, if I ever have an excuse to travel through northern Alabama, I will stay here again.