Sitting in the middle of a vast, abundant expanse of Iowa farmland is the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption. Making this structure further unique is that it is assembled from fancy rocks in a location where few, if any, deposits of precious geological specimens exist.
Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
This rare religious composition was the vision of Father Paul M. Dobberstein (1872-1954). He was pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in West Bend, Iowa, for 57 years.
As a young seminarian, when he became critically ill with pneumonia, he prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for him for the “grace of health.” If he lived, he pledged to build a shrine in her honor. The illness passed, and for more than a decade he stockpiled rocks and precious stones. Actual construction began in 1912.
A vast collection of precious materials
The purpose of the Grotto is an artistic portrayal of the life of Jesus Christ in stone. “Father Dobberstein used a vast collection of minerals, and precious and semi-precious stones in the building of the Grotto. Petrified wood, malachite, azurite, agates, geodes, jasper, quartz, topaz, calcite, stalactites, and stalagmites are but a partial list of rocks gathered, purchased or donated for the building of the Grotto. The many offerings of visitors have aided substantially to create this artistic wonder,” according to the Grotto website.
Made mostly by hand
Fr. Dobberstein set about placing fancy rocks and gems into concrete. Joining Dobberstein early on was Matt Szerensce, fresh out of high school in 1912. He became a full-time Grotto collaborator, a decision resulting in 52 years of intense labor.
The Grotto of the Redemption is the “largest known accomplishment of its kind anywhere in the world,” according to Grotto sources. “No accounting was made either of the many hours of labor involved in building the Grotto, or the money expended in gathering the stones and shaping them into a harmonious unit.”
When Father Dobberstein was 74, Father Louis Greving was sent to do “clerical duties” and “to assist with the ongoing building project.” Dobberstein worked on the Grotto for another eight years, until his death in 1954.
This religious shrine is “considered to be the world’s most complete man-made collection of minerals, fossils, shells, and petrifications in one place.” One estimated value of the rocks and minerals which make up the Grotto is more than $4,308,000.
The shrine also includes a museum with precious and semi-precious stones from throughout the world. On exhibit are photographs and artifacts about the lengthy construction of the shrine.
Guided tours run daily from April through October. Tours start at the museum between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. For a quick virtual tour, click here. Upwards of 100,000 tourists come to see the Grotto annually.
If you go:
Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
208 1st Avenue NW
P.O. Box 376
West Bend, Iowa 50597
The Shrine is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Office: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Gift Shop: May – Oct., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Nov. – April, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Very few shrines have campgrounds; however, the Grotto of the Redemption has one with 53 sites. There are even electrical hookups (30/50 amp). Central water and a sewer dump station are also available.
Open: Weather permitting, April 15 to Nov. 1.
Nightly Rates: $20 for RVs, $10 for tents.
Availability: First-come, first-served.
Register at the Grotto Office/Gift Shop. If you arrive after hours, find a spot and check in the following morning.
— Julianne G. Crane
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For more RV lifestyle articles by Julianne G. Crane, go to RVWheelLife.com.
What a nice surprise to read something uplifting. Never knew this existed. Thank you.
Have been there twice, as only live about 2 hrs. drive from there. It is really a very amazing site to behold. The art work is unbelievable. If you are traveling anywhere close, it would be worth your time to take a look. Do not be in a hurry, it is remarkable.