Father Mathias Wernerus’ Dickeyville Grotto
Father Mathias Wernerus (1873-1931) was born in Germany but moved to Wisconsin in 1904 to study at the St. Francis Seminary. He was ordained as a Catholic priest a few years later and became the pastor of the Holy Ghost Church in Dickeyville in 1918. After decorating several vases with colored glass for a cemetery memorial, Wernerus invited parishioners to join him in beautifying their devotional landscape. At the time, grotto-building was not uncommon in the Midwest but Holy Ghost Park, or The Dickeyville Grotto as it was better known, became wildly popular with visitors.
Using concrete embellished with crushed glass, shells, and tile, Wernerus and his helpers created shrines that explore themes of Catholic spirituality and American patriotism. Like Isaiah, Wernerus worked organically, mostly without structural plans. Oftentimes the architectural details of existing structures completely disappeared under Wernerus’ adornment.
Guided tours are now offered of the art environment and a gift shop is next to the space.
Biography and photos
Video “Dickeyville Grotto” by Wandering Wisconsin (6 minutes; 2011)
Book The Dickeyville Grotto: The Vision of Father Mathias Wernerus by Susan A. Niles (1997)