June 6th ~ West Bend, IA ~
One does not expect to find a site sometimes billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World’ in a small town in rural NW Iowa, with an estimated population of only 700 people. But today we had the opportunity to see this place for ourselves.
Perhaps that “Eighth Wonder” description is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is truly unique and worth a visit if your travels bring you this way. I might try to describe it as a bit of a cross between Watts Towers in Los Angeles, and the Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro, with a sacred shrine twist.
The grotto contains the largest collection of precious stones and gems found anywhere in one location. One man’s dream and fulfillment of a promise lead to this shrine depicting scenes from the life of Christ. The location was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2001
HOW IT ALL CAME ABOUT:
Paul Dobberstein grew up in Germany, immigrated to the USA at twenty and attended seminary near Milwaukee to prepare for the priesthood. Just shortly before he was to be ordained he became deathly ill with double pneumonia. Seeking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he promised to build her a shrine if she would restore his health. The illness passed and Father Dobberstein was ordained in 1897 and shortly thereafter was assigned the parish in West Bend, IA.
For ten years he gathered and stockpiled rocks and precious stones and finally began building the promised shrine in 1912.
Over the next forty-two years Fr. Dobberstein created hundreds of intricate stone settings that form the Grotto’s walls and ceilings. Eventually Matt Szerensce, a young parishioner, and Fr. Louis Greving, his successor, helped and later continued his work.
“Father Dobberstein used a vast collection of minerals and precious and semi-precious stones in the building of the Grotto. Petrified wood, malachite, azurite, agates, geodes, jasper, quartz, topaz, calcite, stalactites and stalagmites are but a partial list of rocks gathered, purchased or donated for building of the Grotto.” ~ West Bend Grotto.com
In addition to all the stones, finely carved Carrara Marble statues are throughout the grottos as well as decorative Italian Mosaics.
The shrine is actually a collection of nine grottos used to tell the “whole story of the fall of man and his redemption”. It is the largest grotto in the world and it is estimated that more than six million people from around the world have visited to see this unique creation of crystal, marble, mineral and stone.
Covering an entire city block, the site includes the nine grottos, a gift shop, museum, and rock studio. A 45 minute documentary can be watched in the theater.
Right next door is the Peter and Paul Catholic Church. A couple items make it worth checking out.
The Christmas Chapel, built in 1927 portrays the nativity scene. It is considered his finest work and made from stones too delicate to withstand harsh weather. The backdrop is a 300 pound Brazilian Amethyst.
The altar, made from birdseye maple won first place under the creative furniture and wood-carving competition at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
IF YOU PLAN TO VISIT:
- The shrine is open 24 hours a day and lit up at night until 10pm
- It is free, but donations are gratefully accepted
- Onsite gift shop 9a- 4p Nov-Apr and 9a-6p May-Oct
- Guided walking tours daily from Memorial Day – Oct starting at 10:00am (weekends only Oct-Memorial Day)
- Very reasonable campsites are available onsite (across the street). Call 515-887-2371 for reservations and prices. We are members of Passport America so with our 50% discount we paid only $7.50 for one night.
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that each day is getting easier and smoother with the three of us in the RV. Tim’s mom will be celebrating her 83rd birthday later this month and all of this is new to her. It is the simple things – getting in and out the door, up and down stairs, using handrails, finding something Shirley can prop her feet on, how to use the shower, adjusting seat belts, converting the dining table booth into the extra bed, and learning where to find the silverware and salt and pepper. In many ways it is easier than I expected. We are trying to be mindful of the limited space and pick up after ourselves.