The shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sheshan, the only Marian pilgrimage site in China, is located in the Song Jiang district, around the great metropolis of Shanghai, and is dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians.
In 1863 the superior of the Jesuit community in Shanghai, bought the south side of Sheshan mountain with a bamboo forest, to build a rest house there for the Jesuit fathers. They also began construction work on a chapel.
On March 1, 1868, Msgr. Adrien Languillat, Bishop of Shanghai, consecrated the chapel and blessed the image of Our Lady Help of Christians. More and more faithful went there every year on May 24, for the feast of Our Lady Auxilium Christianorum.
During the attack by the Tai Ping army rebels, Fr. Gu Zhen Sheng, the superior of the Jesuit community of Shanghai, climbed the Sheshan mountain praying to the Virgin: “If the diocese is spared threatening attack, we will build a basilica to give thanks to the special protection of Our Lady.” And the diocese was spared from destruction.
In September 1870, Fr. Gu made public this protection of the Virgin and the promise to build a new temple in thanksgiving. He explained the details of the event to the faithful, asking for donations for the construction of the basilica.
On May 24, 1871, on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, in the presence of more than 6,000 faithful, Bishop Languillat was able to preside over the laying of the first stone of the new church, thanks to the generous contributions of the faithful. On April 15, 1873 he consecrated and inaugurated the great basilica on the top of the mountain. Since then Our Lady of Sheshan has been the special protector of the Diocese of Shanghai.
At the request of Bishop Languillat, Pope Pius IX in 1874 granted an indulgence to all those who make a pilgrimage to this sanctuary during the month of May.
The premises having become too cramped, construction work on a new building took place from 1921 to 1935. The new church was designed by the architect Alphonse Frédéric De Moerloose, a Belgian priest of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and built by the architect François-Xavier Diniz, a Jesuit father of Portuguese origin.
The current basilica is neo-Romanesque, according to a Latin cross plan. The interior with three naves, in a soft gray, converges towards the altar with a gilded baldachin and the image of Mary and the Child. It has a capacity for over 3,000 worshipers and is considered the first basilica in East Asia.
Halfway up, in 1894, Catholics built the church of Zhong Shan, dedicated to Mary Mediatrix, as well as three chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the door of the church, according to Chinese tradition, are two inscriptions: “Rest a little in the small chapel halfway to the summit and offer your filial homage. The sanctuary is at the top of the mountain. Go up a little more, and implore the mercy of the Mother of God.”
After the revolution, and its return to the Catholic community, the basilica came back to life: every year in May, the faithful come from all parts of China to pay homage to the Virgin.
A monumental bronze statue of Our Lady of Sheshan dominates the shrine. She was crowned in 1946 at the request of the Holy See.