Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Photos: OC-Travel
Amid the corn and soybeans in the heartland of America is one of the most interesting little shrines on the American continent.  It is the creation of the Rev. P.M Dobberstein, a Catholic priest in West Bend, Iowa.  Here an estimated 100,000 people flock each year to see a monument he built and described as "my gift to the American people."  This is the Grotto of the Redemption located next to the exquisite parish church of Sts. Peter and Paul.  

Fr. Dobberstein, who emigrated to America from Germany at age twenty, began this patient and dedicated project in September of 1912 and labored forty-two years to build the shrine.  The totally unique Spanish baroque church he built in 1921, a breath of fresh air compared to the big-box churches of today.  Years before as a young seminarian in Wisconsin the future priest-artist fell ill with pneumonia.  Upon his recovery he made a vow to build a worthy monument to God.  The result is the Grotto of the Redemption, a shrine that is made of countless bits of richly colored natural stones from the earth, a geological wonder.

The main altar is a true work of American artigianale craft production.  This twenty-two foot high, hand-carved birdseye maple altar graces a beautiful worship space.  The altar won first place at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  It is the creation of Egid Hackner of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  He designed and carved the altar, decorating it with twenty-three karat gold leafing, highlighting the carvings.  The altar, originally commissioned for a different church, was brought here and installed in 1972. 

Above the altar is this fresco by Fr. Dobberstein's brother, Bernard.  He, too, was an artist who created this unique display of light in 1929.  The process seen here is the result of mixing paint into wet plaster, embedding the image in the plaster, in the style of the Italian fresco.  The scene above the altar depicts the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.

The Christmas chapel was built in 1927.  It is one of Fr. Dobberstein's finer works, composed of materials from nearly every country in the world.  The large Brazilian amethyst in the background of the chapel weights 300 lbs.  The agates in the base of the structure were cut and polished in Belgium.

The Stations of the Cross, products of the Vatican Mosaic Studios during a golden age in the 1920s, are works of inestimable historic import and artistic value.  The fresco works on the walls produce a magnificent display of color and harmony.  Locals describe the Grotto as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."  Truly, it is a miracle in stone, resembling in some ways the internationally recognized style of the Spanish architect Gaudí.  Visitors marvel at the intricate rock settings, a fascinating panorama of crystal and marble, agates, mineral and stone.  It is a favored place for the entire region where visitors gather to camp, picnic, and children run and play.  

In 2001 the site was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.  My hope is that it will be raised to the status of "National Shrine" by the USCCB.  It is the largest man-made grotto in the world and the largest collection of precious stones and gems displayed anywhere in the world.  For wandering pilgrims (and most especially for geologists), it is a must see on your next road trip.  The Grotto meets perfectly the requirements for a shrine -- it is a place for pilgrims to come and pray that is too beautiful for words.      
The theme of redemption and beauty give unity to this sacred space.  Be sure to experience it yourself.  The symphony of God's creation is on full display -- fascinating mineral specimens, quartz crystals, stalactite and stalagmite, malachite, jasper, petrified wood and much more.    

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