Monday, July 26, 2010

RAGBRAI Day 2: The Grotto gem of West Bend

For the most part, towns you pass through on RAGBRAI are pretty similar.

All of them have a town festival of some sort, numerous food stands to choose from, and a beer garden to help quench you thirst. If you're lucky, the town will have a free water fill-up station and short lines to the bathroom. It's a welcome site for riders, but can get to be a monotonous one, especially when bike traffic gets congested.

At first glance, the small town of West Bend was a lot of the same. Since I spent $5 on some homemade ice cream (delicious, by the way) a few miles back, my intent was to pedal through the town on press on to Algona. I figured a full water bottle and last granola bar would tide me over for the last 18 miles of a surprisingly flat 79-mile day.

My intentions held true until I got to the east end of town. That's when I came across the Grotto of Redemption, a massive stone monument next to the town's church. I was told about the Grotto by a few seasoned RAGBRAI riders earlier in the day, but dismissed it as being being a run-off-the-mill statue of religious significance. After all, how cool could a monument be in a town of a little more than 800 people?
Well, after seeing the Grotto, I will tell you this: It ain't your average statue. I spent an hour walking around the park taking pictures (only posting a few of them because it's time-consuming to do so). Aside from maybe the Basilica in St. Paul, I don't think I've ever seen a religious monument so impressive.

Construction of the Grotto began in 1912 when Fr. Paul Dobberstein, a Catholic priest, gathered stones from around the world and built the Trinity part of the monument to fulfil a promise he made to the Blessed Mary for curing him when was stricken with pneumonia. The rest of the monument was construction was completed over the course of the next 70 years, first by Dobberstein, later by his predecessor Fr. Louis Greving.

There are numerous stories of Christianity depicted on the Grotto. The 14 stages of the cross, Adam and Eve, the Ten Commandments and Jesus Christ's birth are just a few of the stories told through stones and petrified wood. The Grotto is the size of a decent-sized church, draws thousands of tourists every year and is proudly referred to by some of the locals as being the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

I don't know if it's quite as awe-inspiring as the actual seven wonders, but it's certainly impressive.

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