Dickeyville Grotto - Sacred Heart.

Dickeyville Grotto

Field review by the editors.

Dickeyville, Wisconsin

Father Mathias Wernerus shaped and built the "Holy Ghost Grotto" between 1925 and 1931. A grotto-building contagion struck the Midwest and south in the early 20th century - from the massive junk glass and stone battlements of the Grotto of the Redemption, to holy landmarks-in-miniature of the Ave Maria Grotto. Though smaller than Redemption, less focused than Ave Maria, the Dickeyville Grotto is unique in its combination of religious and patriotic-themed areas.

Entrance to the Grotto.

The Grotto wraps around the Holy Ghost Catholic Church, a folk art progression that includes a small artificial cave, statue alcoves, arches and fountains. Left of the main grotto is a walkway with a pillar and stylized cross marked "Religion;" to the right an American flag sculpture promises "Patriotism."

The walls and displays feature a wider variety of costume jewelry, shells and household bric-a-brac than we've seen in other grottoes; though nothing looks too valuable. The shrines have endured some wear and tear; in places, malicious souvenir hunters have pried loose small pieces. The main grotto interior is protected by transparent panels.

The "Patriotism Shrine" radiates around an eagle-topped monument. A marble statue of Christopher Columbus is framed in a seashell arch. Images of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington complete the heroic trilogy.

Father Wernerus died in 1931. Helpers completed his last grotto, and then stopped. Stations of the Cross were added in 1963, but the lack of a single spiritual heir discouraged the second-generation hand-off and busywork additions found in other grottoes.

Dickeyville Grotto.

In correspondence examined by author Susan Niles (Dickeyville Grotto: The Vision of Father Mathias Wernerus, University Press of Mississippi), Wernerus fretted about the fate of the grotto to his bishop. The priest believed it was destined to be the biggest pilgrimage destination in the country, and worried that people would transform the grotto into a place "with ice cream parlors and God knows what." Fortunately for him (though perhaps not for us), the local parish has prevented any overt commercialization, and it is only occasionally overrun by church groups and well-meaning outsider art enthusiasts.

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Dickeyville Grotto

Address:
West Main St., Dickeyville, WI
Directions:
US Rt. 151 and West Main Street, one block west of the 151/61 intersection.
Hours:
Summer - Gift shop 9 am - 5 pm, tours 11 am - 4 pm. May, Sep, Oct tours weekends (Call to verify)
Phone:
608-568-3119
Admission:
Donation
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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September 17, 2014

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