“Is this heaven? No, its Iowa.” It's a line from one of my favorite movies. Of course, that's a reference to a baseball field, but if you drive 207 miles west of Dyersville, you'll come across The Shrine of The Grotto of Redemption. Located in the small town of West Bend, the Grotto began its construction in 1912 after its builder/founder, Fr. Paul Dobberson (1872-1954) survived a near-death case of pneumonia, and prayed for the Virgin Mary to cure him of his illness. He became well and began finding and keeping fossils, rocks, minerals, and precious stones. Fr. Dobberson was to make it a tribute to the Holy Mother curing him of his sickness. When all was said and done, nine Grottos were built including the largest Grotto in the world. In August of 2015, the Grotto was given the status of diocesan shrine making it the first Catholic religious shrine designated in the diocese. It is visited by tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Now enough of the history lesson, let’s talk about how cool this grotto is.
I actually wasn’t even expecting to stop here. It was something that was on my mind but when you’re on 35 heading south toward Des Moines, the last thing on your mind is going right and driving an hour and a half out of your way to see something. I stopped at the visitor center right off of I35 on the other side of Minnesota and it is something I suggest everybody does. Here, you can get a quick glimpse as to what this state can offer. I grabbed a brochure or three and saw a brochure for the Grotto. I thought “Huh, that’s kinda neat,” and then began the 85-mile trek to se it.
The drive takes you through several cool small towns, so if you aren’t in a hurry, stop in or at least drive through and see them. When I arrived at the Grotto, it was near dusk and it was a pro and con type thing. The pros were that it wasn’t busy, and the sunset looked really cool in the background against of all the statues and structures. The con was that time was limited and it would become dark about a half hour after arriving. From a distance when approaching, you initially think it seems intriguing. But with each step, you slowly become overwhelmed with how cool it indeed is. Closely looking at each gem, each stone, each statue perfectly, artistically, placed around the Grottos is fascinating. Your walk slowly turns to standing in place or walking in a circle, taking it all in. The Grottos each share a story of the life of Jesus. If you aren’t a religious person, that’s okay. An appreciation of the structures will leave you in awe. Each grotto has stones that represent different moods and add more to the story Fr. Dobberson was trying to tell. Grab a brochure by the visitor center so you can see what each Grotto represents. They do have tours, which I didn’t get (those were closed) but I think it would be beneficial to take a guided tour to appreciate everything the naked eye misses.
This attraction is as big as a city block. It’s as beautiful as anything you could possibly find in a large city, and it’s found right here in West Bend, Iowa, population 755 (2016). It was the greatest detour I have ever made in my new found love for travel, and I hope you find the time for a detour to see one of the greatest wonders in not only the state, not only the country, but in the world. As I walked away from the Grotto having set, I knew I had experienced something absolutely amazing.
Image credit: Steven Kawecki