Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

This article is third in a series chronicling our journey on Saturday, August 8, 2020. The first two posts are Keeping it Corny at the Corn Palace and Porter Sculpture Park: A Quirky Roadside Attraction along I-90.

To cap off our epic day of travel, Daniel and I crossed the border into Iowa and headed to a little known gem – the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption. Unlike the previous two attractions we visited today, this one wasn’t located super close to the Interstate. We zigzagged though a landscape of endless corn and soybean fields for about an hour until finally arriving at our destination.

Our Visit to the Grotto of the Redemption

The Grotto of the Redemption is a sprawling complex of connected man-made caves that depict the story of Jesus’ life. The brainchild of Father Paul Dobberstein, the Grotto of the Redemption is the largest human-constructed grotto in the world.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we approached the Grotto. Constructed at Saint Peter and Paul’s Parish in West Bend Iowa, the shrine is located where scarcely any naturally-occurring rocks are found. And yet, this amazing construction exists smack in the middle of a small town that is surrounded by endless agricultural fields.

The grotto reminded me of some similar caves that Daniel and I visited during our travels in Europe – except that that this grotto was much newer. Another big difference is that no one was at this grotto. We arrived around 6:00 pm on a Saturday evening and basically had the entire place to ourselves. The shrine attracts about 100,000 visitors each year.

During our visit, all doors to the grotto were unlocked and we were free to wander through the shrine on our own. It’s actually a pretty great destination for practicing social distancing, as most of the walls and shrines are located outdoors (or are easily visible from the outside).

The back entrance to the Grotto. This one leads to the stations of the cross.
Grotto depicting Jesus’ birth
The Grotto is constructed of a dazzling collection of precious and semi-precious stones
A peek into one of the scenes depicted in the Grotto
The 12th Station of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross

A Brief History of the Grotto

According to legend, Father Dobberstein became critically ill with pneumonia as a young man and prayed to the Virgin Mary. He promised to build her a shrine in exchange for her assistance.

After his recovery, Father Dobberstein began stockpiling precious stones and began construction in 1912. He continued working in the Grotto for 42 years, and then passed the torch to another priest. Today, the Grotto of the Redemption includes 9 grottos and covers an entire city block.

According to the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption web site, Father Dobberstein used “a vast collection of minerals and precious and semi-precious stones… [including] petrified wood, malachite, azurite, agates, geodes, jasper, quartz, topaz, calcite, stalactites, and stalagmite” during construction. Today, the value of all the rocks and minerals used during constructions is set at over $4.3 million dollars. [Source: Wikipedia]

Saint Peter and Paul’s Parish
Statue honoring Father Dobberstein
Grotto walls with the parish church in the background

Camping at the Grotto of the Redemption

As I researched camping options near West Bend, I learned that the Grotto has its own campground. We didn’t have many details about the campground except for the fact that it didn’t take reservations. So Daniel and I just showed up and hoped for the best.

We were pleasantly surprised by the Grotto’s campground and really enjoyed our stay there. The campground is located on two different grassy fields and is actually quite large. There were only two other RVs during our visit and we had plenty of room to spread out. Plus, all the sites had electric hookups and the prices were reasonable.

I couldn’t figure out the place wasn’t packed with other people. I wasn’t complaining though. It was nice to have some space to ourselves.

Our campsite at the Grotto of the Redemption
We pretty much had this campground to ourselves
The campground had pretty nice facilities, actually, including a shower house with bathrooms and a RV dump station

Where are we now?

IMG_0401
We are in West Bend, Iowa!


Date: August 8, 2020 – Part III
Great American Road Trip Status: Day 34

Starting Location: AmericInn – Mitchell SD
Ending Location: Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption – West Bend, IA
Miles Traveled: 214
Total Trip Mileage: 3583.0

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:

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