Homer's Travels: One More Religious Site

Monday, July 12, 2010

One More Religious Site

For someone who's not very religious, I seem to end up visiting a lot of religious sites.  Byzantine churches in Jordan.  Spanish Missions in California.  The list goes on.  The latest addition was the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa.

I think what attracts me to religious sites is the architecture and the art of the places.  My latest stop, made on the 4th of July, was more of a folk art tour de force.  We visited it while celebrating the 4th with the in-laws at their lake house.  (We did not win the boat parade, by the way.)

Started in 1912 the Grotto was built by two men, Father Dobberstein, who started the project, and Matt Szernsce who helped him.  Another Father, Fr Greving also helped, taking over for Fr. Dobberstein.  The Grotto is made of concrete and stones ... lots of stones.  Stones gathered by the builders all over the world and donated by interested people.  He would build concrete panels with the rocks encrusted in them over the winter and then, with the help of his parishioners, would put them in place in the spring and summer.The best way to describe it is through pictures.

Grotto Stone Work.
As you can see, every square inch of the grotto is covered in stones, crystals, and seashells.  The structure is built on 12-15 foot deep footings to stabilize it and to reduce settling.  Various grottoes are dedicated to Mary, Jesus, Joseph, and other Catholic saints.  Parts of the structure are spectacular such as this dome:

Grotto Dome.
Other parts are embellished with sea shells sent by volunteers. This example looks almost alien:

Cool symmetric shells.
Father Dobberstein was quite a fellow.  His housekeeper had to hide a set of his clothes to prevent him from giving them away to the poor.  He once got lost in a cave in South Dakota looking for a large quartz crystal.  A couple days later and several miles away from the entrance he had gone in, he emerged with the crystal and practically blind - his flashlight had died early on.  Based on the movie in the visitor's center, the Father was quite a spiritual man.

Photos of the Grotto can be found here.


  1. Imagine what you'd see if you were a volunteer for upkeep of that place!

  2. Miss McC: Very true.

    GH: There is a guy from Minnesota who helps maintain/restore some of the concrete work. I have a feeling he is too busy to admire the pretty rocks.