Sunday, April 1, 2007

Gotta Getta Grotto

Wednesday started bright and early (okay it was 10:00, but that's early for vacation) with breakfast at the Golden Pancake (could i even have made that up?) and itinerary planning to pack in as much as possible. The first stop was the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos. I like places that are a bit off of the beaten path and perhaps outside of the norm and the description "a galaxy of dazzling mosaics and multi-colored rock sculptures" caught my attention. Besides, how can you go wrong with a place that manages to be in both Roadside America and the official visitor's guide - that means it is probably cool, but respectable. This place was well off the beaten path; in fact the picture earlier in the blog of the intersection of F and FF was taken looking for this place. The nearest town was Eureka (an i'm not making that up, either). I'm not sure what i expected, but this place was awesome. I didn't know that it was on the grounds of a Franciscan Monastery, but that became apparent quickly when i was greeted by this guy: Built from 1937-1960 by one Franciscan monk from Poland the Grottos are somewhat unreal. Surrounded by forest they seem to have grown up from the ground like Catholic stalagmites. Featuring statuary of saints and scenes from Jesus' life, Brother Bronislaus created the tableaus by hand from native tiff rock without using power tools . This was after he clear cut the forest, of course. He decorated them with shells, glass, costume jewelry, beads and just about anything he could find. At one grotto he "planted" candelabras from the monastery in flower pots to resemble beautiful metal flowers. In the following picture, the vases are made of concrete poured into jello molds and the flowers were made in cupcake pans: Being raised Protestant, Catholicism with its saints and its services in another language and its full-on worship of Mary has always seemed foreign enough to me to almost be another religion. However, being Niki means the pomp and sparkliness of it certainly draws my attention (i do love shiny objects). One of the neatest things about looking at the grottos up close was seeing all of the things people had left. Some objects, like coins or religious metals were to be expected, but other objects made sense only to the person who left them: After Brother's death (from heat stroke while clear cutting another section of forest for a grotto for Our Lady of Fatima; he was found at the base of the Mary statue having left a trail of tools behind him - now that's commitment) the grottos continued to be up kept by the monastery. There have been some changes over the years and apparently there are plans to add more. This stop was a mixture bizarre and holy - i felt right at home.

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