I only saw the link online while searching for things to see in Iowa. It says that I need to visit the Grotto of the Redemption, specifically located in West Bend. I saw some pictures posted on some blogs, but was not actually impressed by them. What really captured me was this line: a miracle in stone. Another description of the grotto that I found interesting was that it is the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. This, I will dispute because for a very long time now the Philippines has been cited to have the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, and that is the famous Banaue Rice Terraces (which, by the way, is too beautiful for the Grotto of the Redemption to surpass).
Anyway, my friend and I drove almost 4 hours to reach the Grotto of the Redemption, coming from the eastern side of South Dakota. The site is hidden in the rural Iowa community, situated amidst residential houses. I was expecting an ordinary sight, you know something that will make me utter short reluctant ahhs and ohhs, and then the scenes will quickly vanish in my head. Yet, the moment my eyes laid on the grotto, I was in awe and the place etched a perfect picture in my mind.
It is true. The Grotto of the Redemption is a miracle in stone. Made of various precious stones from all over the world, the colors and brilliance of the stones can easily attract curiosity. While the colors of the fall season may only last a short time, the colors of the gems stay the same for years to come, as they were thousands of years ago. Laid out meticulously in different shapes, sizes and designs, the stones sum up what the whole structure is all about — a labor of love and faith.
The story of the Grotto of the Redemption and how it came about is just as inspiring as the structure itself.
Paul Matthias Dobberstein was born in Rosenfeld, Germany on September 21, 1872. He received part of his early education at the University of Deitsche-Krone in Germany. When Paul was 20 years old he immigrated to America. On coming to America he entered the Seminary of St. Francis near Milwaukee to prepare for the Priesthood. It was there that he began to show signs of unusual artistic ability that was to characterize all the waking hours of his earthly existence.
He completed his studies for the Priesthood at St. Francis Seminary and was ordained there on June 30th, 1897. For one year he served as chaplain for the Sisters of Mount Carmel hospital in Dubuque. Then when the Archdiocese of Dubuque was divided and Sioux City jurisdiction was formed he was appointed the pastor of West Bend Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church and remained there in that capacity for the rest of his life. During fifty-seven years he was counselor, instructor, and leader to the parishioners of St. Peter and Paul’s.
It is generally told as a fact that as a young seminarian, Father Dobberstein became critically ill with pneumonia. As he fought for his life he prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Mother of God) to intercede for him for the grace of health. He promised to build a shrine in her honor of he lived.
The illness passed, the student completed his studies and after his ordination he came to West Bend as Pastor in 1898. For over a decade he was stockpiling rocks and precious stones. The actual work of giving permanence to his promise began to take shape in 1912.
The designed purpose of the Grotto is to tell in silent stone made spiritually eloquent, the story of man’s fall and his redemption by Christ, the savior of the world.
It is truly a work of art with some religious story in the background. For those offended by few religious rants from the tour guide, you may want to skip the guided tour and see the structure yourself (it is much better if you have already done your research, at least know the grotto’s history). For Christians familiar with the Stations of the Cross, the grotto has it too. The best part of the structure is climbing up the stairs to the top and looking at the various stone designs below. The presence of a water park at the opposite side of grotto adds to the already-beautiful scenery.
There is also a museum that showcases precious stones and some stone artifacts that date millions of years ago. The souvenir shop is located across the street fronting the grotto. The shop sells religious items — from holy rosaries and figurines to cards and fridge magnets.
Recommendation score: 8/10
History Channel even featured this amazing shrine.
Address of Grotto of the Redemption:
300 N Broadway, PO Box 376, West Bend, IA 50597
GPS N42.96401 W94.4451
Tel no. 800-868-3641