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Mathias Wernerus, Holy Ghost Park, popularly known as The Dickeyville Grotto

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About the Artist/Site

Working with his parishioners, Mathias Wernerus, a Catholic priest, designed and built a series of grottoes and shrines on the grounds of the Holy Ghost Church in Dickeyville, Wisconsin, between 1918 and 1930.  Now know as “The Dickeyville Grotto,” Wernerus’ creation was the second major grotto of elaborately embellished concrete built in the Upper Midwest. The first major grotto in the region,  the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, was built by Father Paul Dobberstein between 1912 and 1954.

Mathias H. Wernerus was born in 1873 in Kettenis, Germany (now Belgium). He studied in Europe, and entered the St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1904, where he was ordained in 1907. In 1918 he became pastor of the Holy Ghost Church in Dickeyville. Most likely inspired by the Grotto of the Redemption, Wernerus engaged his parishioners in building projects that transformed a nondescript church into a glittering devotional landscape. His first artistic works were flower vases elaborately embellished with colored glass, made in 1920 for a cemetery memorial. In 1924 he began work on the Grotto of the Holy Eucharist, a concrete shrine he embellished with glass, shells, tile, and other materials. From 1925 to 1930 Wernerus and his parishioners created and embellished the Grotto of Christ the King and Mary His Mother, the Grotto of the Sacred Heart, and the Patriotism Shrine, nearly disguising their classical Roman architectural elements with rich encrustation of materials and the informal connection of grottoes and park spaces with walkways lined by embellished fences.

The Dickeyville Grotto reflects popular religiosity and includes bold expressions of loyalty to church and state, an important sentiment for American Catholics at the time of its construction. It was formally dedicated on Sunday, September 14, 1930. In February 1931 Wernerus died of pneumonia and work on the grotto ceased.  

The Dickeyville Grotto was a major source of inspiration for several individual sculptures (see Jacob Baker), a number of  art environments (see Nick Engelbert’s Grandview, The Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto, Molly Jensen’s Art Exhibit, Fred Zimmerman’s garage, the Schulze houses, and others in the region), introducing the seductive technique of embellished concrete to many artist builders in the region.

Sources for this entry include John Beardsley’s 1995 Gardens of Revelation and Susan A. Niles’ 1997 Dickeyville Grotto, the Vision of Father Mathias Wernerus. 

~Lisa Stone

 



SPACES Archive Holdings

The SPACES archive includes John Beardsley’s 1995 Gardens of Revelation and Susan A. Niles’ 1997 Dickeyville Grotto, the Vision of Father Mathias Wernerus, and Lisa Stone and Jim Zanzi’s 1993 Sacred Spaces and Other Places. Other materials include: 1 folder: clippings, correspondence, pamphlets, and images.

Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Dickeyville, Wisconsin, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 42.627526 / -90.592273

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