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Walking on Hallowed Ground
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Walking on Hallowed Ground

Probably the biggest surprise of our trip to Jackson County was St. Donatus, a picturesque hamlet of 150 people located up the Great River Road from Bellevue. The town was settled by immigrants from Luxembourg in the mid-1800s and boasts the largest collection of Luxembourgian architecture in America.

The crown jewel of those buildings is the St. Donatus Catholic Church, which sits on a grassy hillside overlooking the town. Built in 1858 and restored after an interior fire in 1907, it looks much as it did when those settlers from Luxembourg laid the cornerstone.

The church’s practical, stucco exterior belies the divine interior, particularly the altar area. With its spires and intricate woodwork, it looks like the Good Lord had a hand in building it Himself!

Behind the church is the ancient cemetery, and up the hill from it is an outdoor Way of the Cross. It consists of 14 brick alcoves among the shade trees, each housing a lithographic print detailing Christ’s journey to His crucifixion. Built in 1861, it’s believed to be the first of its kind in America.

Gaze across the lush green valley and you see the twin steeples of St. John’s Lutheran Church. It, too, is impressive and added to the peacefulness we felt.

By then, the sun was casting long shadows across the headstones in St. Donatus cemetery, signaling an end to our day.

As we retraced our route along the scenic byways toward home, we thought once again about Grant Wood. Not to take anything away from his artistic genius, but this heavenly slice of eastern Iowa sure gave him a lot of inspiration to work with. 

This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at

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