Iowa History Daily: On August 1, 2015, the Bishop of Sioux City elevated Father Paul Dobberstein’s “Grotto of the Redemption” in West Bend to diocesan shrine status. The incredibly intricate shrine constructed of stones, minerals, and petrifications is believed to be the largest grotto in the world.
Born in Germany, Paul Matthias Dobberstein immigrated to America in 1892 as a 20 year old. After seminary at St. Francis in Wisconsin, the new priest arrived in Iowa to serve as a chaplain for the Sisters of Mount Carmel Hospital in Dubuque. Just a year later, Dobberstein moved to Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church when the Sioux City jurisdiction formed in 1898.
According to accounts, Dobberstein contracted life-threatening pneumonia while in seminary and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for intercession. Making a promise to build a shrine to honor Mary should he recover, Dobberstein kept his word after arriving in Kossuth County.
For almost 15 years Father Dobberstein collected precious stones as he prepared to undertake his project. In 1912, his work commenced. The project would span the next 42 years, growing to nine grottos each depicting scenes in the life of Jesus. The site stands as the largest grotto in the world, and the stones within are valued in the millions of dollars.
Dobberstein also constructed other grottos including those in Sioux City, Carroll (now destroyed), Dubuque, Wesley, and Humboldt. His work inspired others, and is credited with starting the grotto building movement in America. Today, thousands flock to West Bend to marvel at the intricate ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar