A few weekends ago a friend and I embarked on another Iowa adventure and headed northwest to the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. This small town is home to the world’s largest man-made grotto, a feat that took more than 40 years to complete.
Paul Dobberstein immigrated from Germany in 1892 and entered the Seminary of St. Francis near Milwaukee to prepare for the priesthood. When Dobberstein became critically ill with pneumonia, he prayed to the Virgin Mary to heal him and promised to build a shrine in her honor if he lived. Dobberstein recovered and in 1898 he was appointed to West Bend’s St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church where he remained for the rest of his life. Though Dobberstein had been collected stones and precious gems for nearly a decade, it wasn’t until 1912 that construction on the grotto began. In 1954 when Dobberstein passed on, his successor, Father Greving, continued work on the grotto for nearly 50 years.
The grotto is open year-round but if you stop by between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we’ve heard the cafe includes a particularly tasty ice cream shop. Tours are offered hourly but we opted just to wander around at our own pace.
Today the grotto is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and attracts more than 100,000 visitors every year. While Dobberstein did not like to discuss the matter, it is estimated that over $4.3 million of stones and precious gems were used to construct the Grotto of the Redemption.
Grotto of the Redemption, 300 N. Broadway in West Bend, IA