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Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin: A Unique, Religious Folk Art Attraction

I spent my early childhood in Wisconsin and another four years when my husband's job took him there. It is a beautiful and scenic state!

The ornate Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin

The ornate Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin

Sometimes when traveling, one comes across a unique attraction; that is exactly what my mother, my niece, and I experienced when traveling through Wisconsin and discovering the Dickeyville Grotto. It certainly fits the description of folk art and it is American inspired.

Dickeyville, Wisconsin is a small town in the southwest corner of the State. Were it not for the Dickeyville Grotto, most folks who do not live there or nearby would probably pass by without giving it a second thought. It would simply be another place on the map alongside the road that they were traversing.

The folk art of a priest changed all of that!

Dickeyville Grotto

Dickeyville Grotto

Were it not for the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Ghost Parish located in Dickeyville, Wisconsin and the inspiration of the parish priest who resided there for a while, Dickeyville might still be overlooked by travelers in that part of the state.

After all, according to the 2000 census, there were only 1,043 residents living on less than a square mile of acreage.

But because of the artistic efforts of Father Matthias Wernerus, Dickeyville has now become an attraction for visitors to that small town.

Love of God and Love of Country

Religious symbols and patriotic symbols are intertwined in the unique folk art creation that came about due to the parish priest's inspiration and hard work of many years.

Several YouTube videos are included in this post. They share more of this clerical man's vision, both religious and patriotic. Viewing them also shows much more of the work accomplished by him than the few photos shown here.

It was with the cooperation and contributions from his parishioners and others that account for all of the assorted pieces collected and then assembled that this work of art came into being.

I would heartily suggest watching the videos below if this subject matter sparks any interest on your part.

Dickeyville Grotto

Dickeyville Grotto

Folk Art Supplies

Many things were embedded into the concrete, including the following:

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Read More from WanderWisdom

  • Pottery
  • Glass
  • Gems
  • Seashells
  • Fossils
  • Corals
  • Petrified wood
  • Stalagmites and stalactites
  • Coal
  • Antiques...and more!

The tree of life depiction below contains petrified wood and other elements already mentioned.

Photo of my mother and niece at the Dickeyville Grotto

Photo of my mother and niece at the Dickeyville Grotto

My mother, my niece, and I were traveling between the States of Mississippi, Iowa, and Wisconsin visiting relatives and friends that particular year. Always on the lookout for special attractions along the way, we discovered the Dickeyville Grotto and stopped to take a look.

At the very least, it is surely an interesting collection of things artistically presented. It is very inspirational for some. That was surely the intent of its creator—Father Matthias Wernerus—who spent five years of his life creating this series of grottoes.

Dickeyville Grotto photo

Dickeyville Grotto photo

Father Wernerus

Originally a European who came to America to practice his priesthood, Father Wernerus was extremely patriotic. The small town of Dickeyville lost three of their sons in World War I. The three soldiers who had fought and died were memorialized by a monument in the church cemetery (pictured below).

As he progressed with his handiwork, Father Wernerus included things like the American Flag, the American Eagle, a memorial to Christopher Columbus, and the like.

Cemetery at this Dickeyville Grotto church

Cemetery at this Dickeyville Grotto church

Faith and Religious Symbols

Obviously, the main thrust of Father Matthias Wernerus' endeavors was to express his religious beliefs. Jesus Christ, the Cross, Mary (the mother of Jesus), and other religious symbols were featured in this mixture of bits of coral, glass, rocks, and other things set into concrete creating this unique and notable site in Dickeyville.

Succumbing to pneumonia one year after finishing his labor of love, Father Matthias Wernerus now resides in the cemetery along with many of his deceased parishioners adjacent to his Holy Ghost Parish Church. He would like that final resting spot, I am certain.

Gravesite of priest who created the Dickeyville Grotto

Gravesite of priest who created the Dickeyville Grotto

Location of Dickeyville, Grotto

You now know a bit about this unique Wisconsin attraction called the Dickeyville Grotto if you were previously unfamiliar.

I hope that you enjoyed these pictures, links, and videos.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Peggy Woods

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