The Grotto Gardens: Custodians of Wonder
[imgbelt img=wonder-cave320.jpg]In Rudolph, Wisconsin, a sacred promise of devotion lives on 100 years later. Keep the faith, but mulch the hostas, too.
Fr. Dobberstein’s work inspired many others to undertake building sacred shrines, most – but not all — of them in rural locations of the Upper Midwest. Directly inspired by Dobberstein’s effort was
Mathias Wernerus who built the Dickeyville Grotto from 1920-1930.
Cultural anthropoligist Anne Pryor writes that the site at Dickeyville and others “reflect American religious politics in the 1920s. Until the election of John Kennedy as the United States’ first Catholic president, the patriotism of Roman Catholics was often questioned standings about their allegiance to the pope…. To show that Catholics could love both church and country, Fr. Mathius Wernerus, the Dickeyville Grotto’s builder, created two stone pillars on either side of the main grotto. In colorful tile and stone, one pillar depicts the U.S. flag and spells ‘Patriotism’; the other shows the papal flag and spells ‘Religion.'”
Susannah Kroeber of the Indiana State Museum has studied the region’s grottos for over 20 years. In the 1920s-’30s, the heyday of this phenomenon, “There was a strong devotional focus in Catholic Church…which could be expressed through grotto building,” she writes.
Kroeber has found that that the proliferation of grottos was linked to other societal changes: “Good roads were becoming more widespread during this period, and automobiles/trucks were easily available. This meant that builders could more easily move material and people could visit sites further away. Lists of all the places that the builders visited and their strenuous efforts to acquire appropriate materials are standard parts of the narrative around many shrines, and all of the large ones.
“Nor should tourism be underestimated as a factor,” Kroeber writes. “The major grotto builders all included facilities for tourists. From the souvenir shrine and the refreshments to the Wonder Cave and Wisconsin in Miniature, Fr. Wagner was well aware of how to attract and serve visitors to the site, including non-Catholics. He described the site as being somewhere between a church and a public park in the degree of freedom and reverence that visitors would experience.”
Is that so?
In late July the local nurseries, winding down, donate scores of trays of annuals—marigolds, impatiens, and coleus – to the Grotto Gardens to finish out the summer with color. Kris and Connie water in new plants around the Fourteen Stations of the Cross and mulch the hostas just beyond the Seven Sorrows of Mary.