Groom Cross: Titanic Texas Tribute
The Groom Cross -- officially named "The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ" -- rises 19 stories up from the Texas Panhandle, a landscape as flat as unleavened bread and as empty as Jesus's Tomb. Approaching on Interstate 40, you might reasonably ask, "Since I've seen this thing for the past 20 miles, why stop?"
Ah, you forget that I-40 follows the path of old Route 66. The Mother Road's legacy of rope-'em-in salesmanship wasn't lost on the Texas millionaire who bankrolled the Cross. It's more than just a 2.5-million-pound steel hallelujah -- it's also a heaven-scraping billboard, luring travelers to other Christian shrines arrayed within its long shadow.
The empty tomb, mentioned earlier, is reproduced in all its rocky glory just west of the Cross. Statues of two custom-made angels augment the scene, one staring at his outstretched palms as if to say, "Where'd Jesus go?"
There's a distinct Roman Catholic/Lutheran visual skew to the ancillary attractions at the Groom Cross. One example can be spotted even as you drive in on the access road: a line of barely visible bent figures at the foot of the Cross lugging other crosses in a never-ending circle. These are the Stations of the Cross, rendered life-size. Jesus is condemned by a scowling Pontius Pilate, meets his sad mom, collapses several times -- the last one face down on the concrete -- is stripped of his clothes by a guard wearing a ridiculous feathered helmet, and then has nails pounded through his bronze flesh with a hammer.
To one side, and off-topic, a statue of Saint Michael the Archangel tramples Satan.
A bronze Last Supper features Jesus breaking bread facing the Cross. Behind him, stairs ascend a man-made Cavalry hill, where a sign reveals that you are now 3,300 feet above sea level (Many Christians believe that Jesus was 33 years old when he was crucified).
Next to it is the Empty Tomb, and beyond that a small building that displays a full-size replica of the Shroud of Turin on a wall. It's one of only seven in the world, according to another sign.
The gift shop and restrooms were built around the Divine Mercy Fountain, with yet another Christ statue; its plaque celebrates, "the blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus." Off to the east side of the Cross stands an anti-abortion memorial shaped like a tombstone; a bronze Jesus kneels, dejected, in front of it with a tiny fetus cupped in his hands, just below his spike-punctured wrists.
According to the Cross's promotional literature, it was inspired by another giant (but smaller) cross in Ballinger, Texas, and in turn inspired an even more gigantic cross in Effingham, Illinois. The land surrounding the Cross was donated by a different Texas millionaire than the one who built it; this second millionaire built the leaning water tower that's the only other attraction in town.
The Cross and Calvary are dramatically floodlit at night, and its boosters want travelers to know that the attraction is free, has clean restrooms (available during gift shop hours), is open 24/7, and has ample parking for RVs and big rigs.
These sound to us like time-tested enticements straight out of vintage Route 66 tourism brochures. But the nowhere is it written that the road to salvation can't include a little sightseeing on the way.