Sunday, August 02, 2009

Gambling & Grotto: An Odd Mix at the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

“So you are on the sinners and saints tour,” laughed Rhonda. You could draw that conclusion. While passing through Iowa, we parked the coach for two nights at the Wild Rose Casino. From the Casino, we drove our Toyota to visit the Grotto of the Redemption. Gambling and a Grotto – what an odd mix!

It happened because of a mere mention of my agate hunting adventure along Lake Superior. This conversation with a manager of the Wild Rose Casino prompted her to recommend a nearby attraction. “If you enjoy agates or stones in general, you must visit the Grotto of the Redemption.” We had seen the roadside sign along Highway 18 earlier and passed it. Now on this hot summer afternoon, I reconsidered. The temperature in the coach was rising and my casino budget was dwindling. The time seemed right for an outing. My expectations of this attraction were low. Little did I know that visiting the Grotto would leave me feeling like I hit the “jackpot”!

Often called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and a “Miracle in Stone, the Grotto of the Redemption spans a full city block in West Bend, Iowa. It is the largest religiously inspired grotto in the world. The Grotto is actually a composite of nine separate Grottos; each portrays a scene spanning the life of Jesus from His birth to His resurrection. The highest point of the Grotto rises forty feet. This mountain commemorates the 13th Station of the Cross – Jesus is taken down from the cross. His limp body lays cradled in Mary’s arms in a sculpture patterned after Michelangelo’s famous Pieta. This is just one of the many Italian Mosaic and Carrara marble statues that adorn sacred place.

More than its size, more than its lifelike statues of the Holy Family and other Biblical figures like Adam & Eve, Moses, and heavenly angels, the minerals and stones used to construct the Grotto make it a geological wonder. One man – Father Paul Dobberstein (1872 – 1954) started construction of the Grotto in 1912 to fulfill a promise he made to God. For 42 years, Father Dobberstein labored setting the rocks and gems into concrete.

According to Rhonda Miller, Director of the Grotto, Father used materials considered to be “junk” at a time. Farmers and landowners were happy to have Father haul the stuff away. That “junk” represents a vast collection of minerals and stones – petrified wood, stalactite and stalagmite, malachite, jasper, quartz crystals, sea shells, and other gems invaluable today. An entry on Wikepedia sets the value of the Grotto gems at $4.3 million. In reaction to that number, Rhonda commented, “Bill Gates couldn’t build it. We can’t rebuild it. The materials aren’t available. The Grotto is priceless.”

The Grotto is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its geological value is world renown for rock hounds and artists. Architects study its construction. The non-religious visitors find it a “peaceful place.” The Faithful visitors move closer to Christ after they experience the Grotto. Rhonda Miller says she annual visitation to range between 25,000 – 30,000 people. Guided tours are available May through October, and anytime by appointment. I caught part of a tour but spent most of my time looking at the dazzling minerals and stones, each one unique, each one crafted by the hand of God.

In this sinners and saints tour, I took a gamble visiting the Grotto. It paid off big time!

July 19, 2009

Grotto of the Redemption

300 N. Broadway

West Bend, Iowa 50597


RVers should note that the Grotto has a

campground with 80 sites available for RVs.

Electrical hookups are at each site.

There is an RV dump station available too.

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