Stella Maris, Protectress of Key West


In my last post, Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground, I wrote of the guardian angel of Islamorada, an island in the chain of isles known as the Florida Keys. Farther south along that chain lies Key West, the most famous of the keys. Key West also has a guardian, named Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), whom the Catholic Church says is an epithet for the Virgin Mary, but who is also a pre-Christian or para-Christian goddess.

Stella Maris Grotto, Key West

Stella Maris Grotto, Key West

According to the parish of Key West, who built a basilica in her honor with a grotto out back, the legend of Stella Maris of Key West is this:

Sister Gabriel had survived three major hurricanes since her arrival in Key West on August 25, 1897. Because of the devastation and heartache she had witnessed as a result of these terrible storms, her deep desire to keep Key West and its residents safe from future storms generated her passion to build the Grotto to seek protection from Our Blessed Mother Mary. Tradition tells us that Sister Gabriel is said to have remarked on that dedication day that as long as the Grotto stood, “Key West would never experience the full brunt of a hurricane.” And as all residents can attest, there has not been a severe storm on the island since the erection of the Grotto in 1922.

You can read more about the basilica at the website here:  Key West Catholic Parish

The grotto also has a meditative garden walk with a giant stone rosary as a footpath. It’s a wonderful place.

Rosary Walk, St. Mary's Key West

Rosary Walk, St. Mary’s Key West

This also is the only Catholic sacred site I have ever been to that sells a rosary with tradecraft symbols on it. Of course Stella Maris, as a sea goddess, not only protects against storms and hurricanes, but protects mariners at sea, which makes her very very important in a maritime location like Key West, which has not only a large population of merchant sailors and fisherman, but a huge US Navy and Coast Guard presence, as well.

The rosary shows Stella Maris holding a ship in her protective hands, and a crucifix superimposed on an anchor and ship’s wheel. Sailors are well-known for their superstitious inclinations, but it’s impressive to see the Catholic community supporting the sailor folk tradition. In a small place like Key West, I guess everyone’s got to work together!


Stella Maris Rosary

You can buy this rosary at the Basilica of Saint Mary’s gift shop in Key West.


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