The small town of Rudolph is set among rich croplands and white pine forests of the wide Wisconsin River valley in north central Wisconsin. On top of a low hill, behind St. Philips Church, are the sprawling grounds of the Grotto Gardens and Wonder Cave. The gardens are as large as an entire block of a town which consists of only several dozen.
Like many other grottoes and religious art projects, the Rudolph Grotto was a fulfillment of a promise that Father Philip Wagner made to the Virgin Mary in thanks for healing from a debilitating exhaustion he suffered while studying for the priesthood in Europe. Father Wagner received his cure while at the shrine at Lourdes, so it follows that in thanks he would build a place of pilgrimage himself. After several inexperienced attempts at construction, Father Wagner completed the first construction at Rudolph, the wayside Lourdes Grotto shrine, in 1928.
All the rock constructions at the Rudolph Grotto are built with a distinctive reddish rock known as gossan, which is rich in iron and infused minerals, and is abundant in the area. Broken and melted glass is used as decorative accents at the grotto, but not pottery or other cast-off materials. Instead, the rough red rocks cover everything in the grotto, their textures and sizes (from pebble sized to an enormous 78-ton boulder) provide the interest and drama of the grotto structures.
The gardens consist of numerous small shrines and structures set among meandering paths and crooked bridges leading through pines and small grassy lawns. There are shady, intimate areas as well as more formal memorials and open picnic grounds. However, the most unusual part of the park is the enormous man-made mountain of the Wonder Cave.
References and Links to the Rudolph Grotto and Wonder Cave
presented by Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi