A 12-ton, 16-foot tall statue of Jesus Christ, sits some 500 feet up the slope of Anvil Mountain, north of town. The Shrine has been attributed to some miracles in this Southwestern Colorado town over the years.
Given the wild mining background of the town in the 19th century, when gambling, 40 saloons, boozing and prostitution were rampant, even causing a split in Silverton to create temporary "evil" and "good" halves of the city, the Shrine is a sharp contrast.
According to Gerald Swanson (owner of the Villa Dallavalle Boutique Hotel and Swanee's Sluice), the Shrine is a reminder of the importance the mining industry was to the area's history:
"To many of us, the Shrine is a symbol of a miracle in Silverton. If you don't believe in miracles, then this will just be an interesting story... During the 1950's the mining industry in Silverton hit rock bottom: there wasn't a working mine anywhere in the San Juan Mountains. The idea of a shrine, dedicated to the miners, came up at a Catholic Men's Club meeting on a cold Sunday afternoon in January, 1958. They hoped that such a shrine would, in some way, help the depressed economy.
In the Spring, Father Joseph Halloran, Parish Priest at that time, and a group from the Men's Club walked the slope of Anvil Mountain. They decided the Shrine should be of such size and magnitude that anyone approaching Silverton could readily see it overlooking the town.
The alcove of the Shrine was to be of native stone. The stone came from the Old Fisher Brewery and adjoining land, and was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ward Barlow. Work began on the alcove in 1958, and everyone interested did their share. Donations also began to come in to the Catholic Church to help pay for the statue. The statue was to be 12-16 feet tall and made of Carrara Marble from Italy.
With the alcove finished, a cutout of the statue was placed inside, to wait for the real statue. The statue arrived late in the summer of 1959. Next came the awesome task of erecting the 12-ton statue. Father Halloran recruited the county crew and their equipment and soon the statue was on its pedestal.
Only a few months after the Shrine was completed and dedicated, a renewed mining effort was begun. The American Tunnel was started, which provided access into the lower reaches of the Sunnyside Mine. Mining in Silverton began one of its most profitable periods. A miracle?
The next addition to the Shrine were the trees behind it. The idea came from the newly transferred Catholic priest, Father Joseph McGuinnes. He ran into opposition about the ability of trees to grow on that slope, but being of strong, bull-headed Irish stock, he went ahead with his plan.
St. Patrick's Parish proceeded to purchase 1,000 Scotch Pine seedlings and planted them in back of the shrine. For a period of four weeks, they were hand watered. To everyone's surprise. the small seedlings began to grow. Today a mini-forest of Scotch Pines grace the back side of the Shine. Another miracle?
A near disaster occurred on June 4, 1978, in the mining industry. The high altitude lake (Lake Emma), above the Sunnyside Mine, workings broke through the mine. The water flooded through the underground workings and out the lower portal, destroying everything in its path.
But another miracle had occurred. The mine flooded on a Sunday night, when no men were working. Although the mine shut down for a while, the flood brought no loss of life."
Silverton's Christ of the Mines Shrine is a constant reminder of the importance of the Mining Industry and especially the miners who worked underground.
Two different bronze plaques adorn the statue. The original states: "This shrine erected in honor of Christ of the Mines by the people of Silverton to ask God's blessing of the mining industry of the San Juans."
The second plaque, added in 1982, commemorates the lives saved when the mines flooded in 1978. Gerald Swanson was very instrumental in having the Shrine built.