Beacon of Liturgical Arts: Assumption Grotto in Detroit

One of our favorite churches to visit is Assumption Grotto in Detroit.  It has a national reputation as an oasis of liturgical arts and sacred liturgy.  It is a centre of Marian devotion.  Many have come here to revivify their faith.  A truly universal Church is a Church which embraces diversity in tongues and gestures, and uniformity in faith, hope, and charity.  It is therefore encouraging to see regular parish communities like this that flourish offering both the EF and NO, with the added bonus of daily Mass in the Vetus Ordo

 Assumption Grotto was built in the late 1920s in a typical late Gothic Revival style, with an attractive limestone exterior.  The cornerstone reads A.D. 1929.  The church was dedicated in 1929, just in time before the Great Depression.  The floorplan is in the shape of a Latin cross.  The front façade depicts 3 windows and 3 entrances, symbolic of the Triune God-Head.  The interior reflects a beautiful Neo-Gothic style with various English and French influences.  The shortened transepts showcase attractive side altars.  The elaborate wooden ceiling evokes the hull of Noah's ark.      

Assumption Grotto stands strong with two bonus extras: it has a parish cemetery, a rarity for an inner city parish.  In addition, it had a grotto adjoining the cemetery, with a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.  The entrance above the cemetery, which dates back to the 1830s, reads in Latin: Pax Christi ("Peace of Christ").  The cemetery is a place of devotion where the faithful gather to pray. It even has its own set of outdoor Stations of the Cross.  The grotto is located within the cemetery, with its own outdoor altar made of granite.  An outdoor Solemn Mass is celebrated here on the feast of the Assumption.  


Catholics have been worshipping on this site since 1832, when German immigrants settled in the area and built a log cabin chapel.  They followed in the footsteps of a handful of French-speaking families who were descendants of the earliest trappers and pioneers, living on the border with Canada.  The parish history can be followed in the adjoining cemetery, where tombstones and funerary monuments attest to these early roots.  

In 1847 the church was designated a parish - only the second Catholic parish in what is today the city of Detroit.  In 1852 the first full-time pastor was assigned, a priest from Belgium.  He began building a permanent brick structure that sat 500, completed by the end of the year.  In 1876 he visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France where in 1858 Our Lady appeared to Bernadette.  The priest was so touched by what he saw in Lourdes and the renewal of faith it ignited in France, that he decided to create a replica of the grotto in Detroit.  The grotto was therefore designed by the architect Peter Dederichs, the same man who designed the old church that no longer stands on the site.

The grotto was completed in 1881, made of imported limestone and massive boulders that were brought to the site by farmers from across the countryside.  On April 30, 1882, Pope Leo XIII signed a proclamation granting partial and plenary indulgences to anyone who visited the grotto and prayed for the propagation of the Faith.  Parishioners have since had great devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.  The grotto was restored and rededicated in 2002.    

 As Detroit grew and became more wealthy as the automobile capital of the world, it became a city of churches with patrons of the arts.  When the church on the site built in 1852 burned down, construction began on a third church in 1907.  Meanwhile, the numbers in the community continued to grow.  The present church was built by Msgr. Joseph Marx, who was named pastor in 1915.  His was the longest serving pastor in the Grotto's history, serving 44 years during that time all of the present buildings on the site were planned and built.

To meet the needs of the booming congregation, he hired the Detroit architect Aloys Frank Herman to design the current church, constructed between 1928-1929.  The cornerstone reads A.D. 1929.  The present church is particularly outstanding for its design, quality of construction, level of craftsmanship, size, and artistic merit.  The pastor celebrated the first Mass in the new church that was fortuitously dedicated on September 22, 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash of October 1929.

The white Carrara marble and reredos was made in Italy with a nod to the French origins of the parish.  The altar is dedicated to Our Lady, with six saints represented in the rise from the gradine and angels perched on each side of the reredos, guarding the altar.  The altar itself is faced with four coffered panels, each with a golden fleur-de-lis, symbolic of the Blessed Trinity.  Above is a beautiful oak canopy with a dossal of rich fabric that can be changed to match the season, suspended from above.

Parishioners and visitors flock to the Sunday High Mass at 9:30 am that is chanted in the EF with Gregorian Chant.  God has so blessed this wonderful community.  May they continue to shine and foster many vocations for the greater glory of God and His holy Church through the reverence and solemnity with which the sacred rites are celebrated here.  This community offers a real sense of satiety, a most sweet and agreeable refreshment to the soul, cultivating a high ideal of spiritual wonder. 

It must be said spiritual things here below are an emanation from those above and in consequence participate in heavenly qualities and virtue.  The spiritual experiences at Assumption Grotto satisfy and fill hears and excite in the faithful hunger and thirst for more divine things.  In this life, the more we devote ourselves to the liturgical traditions of the Church - that reflect the heavenly liturgy - the more we relish them and the more we enjoy them and continually hunger and thirst after them.

This is regardless of the scorning and vanities of the world and the worldly downplay of the integral role of good liturgy in the preservation of a vibrant and thriving parish community, that we may ever be firm in saying with the Prince of the Apostles: "Lord, it is good for us to be here" (Matt. 17:4).     

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.