Father Paul Dobberstein's work on the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend brought him fame and offers to build similar structures in other places. In addition to grottos in Carroll, Davenport, and St. Joseph Ridge, Dobberstein built smaller pieces in Humboldt and this crucifixion sculpture in Wesley, Iowa. Dobberstein took no payment for this work except for the cost of materials and a small salary for his assistant Matt Szerensce.
The marble sculptures of the Crucifixion Grotto were installed in 1921. Father Dobberstein added the rock and concrete walls a few years later in 1925.
While the sculpture is known as the "Crucifixion Grotto," it is not built around the cave-like niche or interior typical of other devotional grottos. Instead, the construction is an open-air altar atop several steps enclosed by two curved walls. Posts at the ends of the walls are encrusted with light-colored stones. The walls rise toward the center in rugged rippling forms topped by specimens of petrified wood, stalactites and crystals. The busy textures rise to a crescendo at the sides of the altar leap up to form a rugged screen behind the cross.
The front of the altar is covered with mosaic panels in a more restrained or formal style than the outer walls, providing a horizontal and vertical lines as a sturdy base for the crucifixion scene. Two tablet-like shapes made of gold mosaic tiles flank three central panels embedded with green stones with small banners labelled "Faith", "Hope" and "Charity." It seems likely that the altar-like form at the center of the grotto was a more-conventional plinth for the marble statues installed in 1921 that was covered over by Dobberstein's concrete and stone panels. As with his other constructions, Dobberstein built much of the grotto in sections at his indoor workshop in West Bend and shipped the pieces to Wesley for installation.
The postcard view shows the miniature Mount Calvary in the midst of open fields as if a crystal-encrusted meteorite fell in a farm in the middle of nowhere. Nowadays the view to the north is screened by a windbreak of pines to block the prairie winds, but the cemetery is still surrounded by cornfields and isolated from the small town of Wesley by a short distance.
The Crucifixion Grotto is located at the center of St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery on 220th St just east of Wesley.
References and Links to the Crucifixion Grotto
presented by Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi