When I travel, I love finding anything that’s unique and a little different. The Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin definitely falls into that category! Dickeyville is located in south west Wisconsin, just 10 minutes from Dubuque IA and the Mississippi River. It’s a tiny little town of around 1000 residents, but it’s worth making a little detour to check out the Grotto! You don’t have to be religious to appreciate how creative this place is!
The Dickeyville Grotto Wisconsin
The Grotto is a series of shrines built by Father Matthias Wernerus, a German immigrant Catholic Priest, between 1925-1931. He built them as a dedication to his love of God and his love of America.
Each Shrine is made out of stone and covered in a mosaic/collage style with various colourful objects such as: shells, coral, starfish, coloured glass, gem stones and copper. I’d imagine with every visit you’d be able to spot a different material or a different picture!
Even the little fences that outline the gardens are covered with coloured stones. A lot of the materials were imported from Europe. To build the same thing nowadays would be nearly impossible with the customs laws, especially with the sheer volume that would be needed to construct something of this size!
From the road, you can only see the main Shrine, which is a large Grotto, the others are all set in the gardens behind it. When I say large, the inside capacity of the Grotto is actually quite small, it’d be a push to get more than a couple of people inside! This part of the shrine is protected by plexiglass, but the external design is continued on the inside too!
There is a narrow pathway that leads behind the main Shrine. On the back of the building is the ‘Tree of Life’. This is the largest actual picture made in the collage style at the Dickeyville Grotto, the rest of the Shrines are decorated more like a mosaic.
My favourite Shrine is the Patriotic Shrine which features Christopher Columbus, some of the American Presidents, a Bald Eagle and the Liberty Bell. This one is more like a statue with a small fountain and is the only Shrine out of those at the Dickeyville Grotto which celebrates Father Matthias Wernerus’ love of America, rather than his religion. I love the large anchor type pieces which sit on top of the wall and it reminds me of the ‘Mirador de Colom‘, another fancy monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus which can be found in Barcelona, Spain.
The Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin, also has a link to Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. How? He donated hundreds of little round wooden balls that were used as gear stick toppers in old fashioned cars. These can mainly be seen on the ‘Altar of Holy Eucharist’ Shrine. If you look closely, they border the gold IHS oval, they are much smaller than the ‘balls’ on top of the gear sticks in modern day cars.
The Grotto sits next to the Holy Ghost Church, next to the steps leading up to the main door of the church, you will find two mosaic ‘flower pots’ (including sculptured flowers!) The Holy Ghost Church ironically looks a lot younger than the Grotto, however it was built in 1913 and was dedicated on December 3rd (on my birthday 75 years before I was born! Strangely enough, the first time I visited the Grotto was on my birthday in 2016!)
There’s also a gift shop which has a wide range of products. Even on a snowy Sunday in December the shop was open and a lovely lady told us all about the history and showed us pictures, books and newspaper clippings all about the Grotto. The Dickeyville Grotto is open year round for self guided walking tours, however the gift shop has various hours depending on the season and is shut from the middle of December to the beginning of April. Guided tours can also be taken 7 days a week during the summer months and at weekends only in September.
The Grotto is free to visit but it is recommended that a donation of $1-$2 dollars is given to help with the upkeep and to look after the grounds.
Iowa has its own slightly older and larger Grotto called ‘The Grotto of Redemption‘ located in West Bend (North Central Iowa). This too was built by a German immigrant Priest and is built in a similar style to the Dickeyville Grotto.
Other nearby places to incorporate into a trip to the Dickeyville Grotto Wisconsin
Dubuque – Iowa (10 minutes)
Mineral Point – Wisconsin (30 minutes)
Have you ever visited one of the Midwest Grottos?
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