More than 300 years ago, a group of wandering Dominican monks discovered a healing source hidden among a thicket of spruce trees (‘Aglona’ means ‘spruce tree’ in an old dialect). It became a place of pilgrimage and, although the sulphur fount lost its apparent power a century later, the water from the source is still regarded as a product of divine intervention and is used in rituals. On Assumption Day, enormous numbers of Catholic pilgrims celebrate mass here.
Today's basilica is a twin-towered whitewashed cathedral standing in a vast grass courtyard, created for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1993 to bestow the title of Basilica Minoris (Small Basilica) upon the holy grounds. One of the basilica’s 10 altars guards a sacred icon of the Virgin Mary, said to have saved Aglona from the plague in 1708. Mass is held at 7am, noon and 7pm Monday to Saturday and at 10am, noon and 7pm on Sunday. Rosary is held at 11am Monday to Saturday and at 9am on Sunday.