Blue sky and entrance to Grotto of the Redemption West Bend Iowa

Off-the-beaten path Iowa attraction: Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is one of my top things to do in Iowa – located about two hours north of Des Moines, Iowa and a little over two hours south of the Twin Cities. Although the Grotto of the Redemption is located off the beaten path, this shrine attracts 100,000 visitors annually, and is perfect for a day trip.


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Childhood memories of The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Growing up in southeast Iowa, vacation was getting in the car and driving northwest a few hours to stay with my great grandparents in Belmond, Iowa. And while it wasn’t Disneyland or a tropical beach, I cherished those family visits.

The only place I remember visiting on those road trips was the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa (about an hour from my great grandparents). The Grotto of the Redemption is a beautiful shrine made of precious and semi-precious gemstones, rocks, shells and petrified wood in rural Iowa surrounded by acres and acres and acres of farmland.

I remember being mesmerized by the Grotto of the Redemption as a young child. I only recently revisited this shrine during a road trip to Iowa last summer. This top roadside attraction in Iowa seems even more beautiful and more meaningful as an adult. I highly recommend the Grotto of the Redemption shrine as one of the top things to do in Iowa.

History of the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Hidden gem in Iowa Grotto of the Redemption West Bend

When admiring the photos of the world’s largest man-made grotto, most cannot believe it’s in Iowa. They think this beautiful shrine is located in Europe. So how did this popular roadside attraction end up in a rural Iowa town with a population of ~757?

The creative genius behind the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is the late Father Paul Dobberstein. Born in Germany, he immigrated to the United States in the 1890s and eventually served as the priest at St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in West Bend, Iowa for 57 years.

Father Dobberstein became gravely ill with pneumonia when he was young. Praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he promised to build a shrine in her honor if he lived. And the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is a promise he kept and built for several decades.

Initially, he collected rocks and precious stones for over a decade and began building the Grotto of the Redemption in 1912. That same year Father Dobberstein hired Matt Szerensce who became a faithful employee for 52 years. In the 1940s, Father Louis Greving arrived to take over for Father Dobberstein’s parish – and also carried out his shrine vision for several decades. The Grotto of the Redemption – the world’s largest man-made grotto was created by three men.

You can read more about its history and these men on the Grotto of the Redemption’s website (primary source for the factual content in this post).



Highlights of the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

Statue Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Built as a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Grotto of the Redemption depicts the life of Jesus Christ as well as other major Biblical events.

Here are a few of my favorite areas in the Grotto of the Redemption.

St. Michael the Archangel – Grotto of the Redemption

Statue of St. Michael stepping on the devil at Grotto of the Redemption

I was drawn to this statue of St. Michael especially. This statue in the Grotto of the Redemption represents good over evil as the archangel is defeating the devil under his foot.

Garden of Eden | Paradise Lost – Grotto of the Redemption

This area of the Grotto of the Redemption features statues of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost.


The stable in Bethlehem – Grotto of the Redemption

Manger scene Jesus Mary Joseph Shrine Grotto of the Redemption

You’ll find 65 tons of petrified wood in the manger scene with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

The Garden of Gethsemane – Grotto of the Redemption

Statues of Judas and Jesus the night before betrayal Grotto of the Redemption

The Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus went to pray the night before he died. You’ll find statues of Jesus, Judas, and the Angel of Comfort in this area. Outside of the grotto are statues of Peter and John sleeping.

The Stations of the Cross – Grotto of the Redemption

Stations of the Cross Grotto of the Redemption

Stations of the Cross Grotto of the Redemption

All 12 stations in the Grotto of the Redemption illustrate the life of Jesus Christ. The first 11 are made of brown jasper to symbolize suffering while the final station is made of white stone to symbolize Jesus on the cross.

Calvary – Grotto of the Redemption

Blessed Virgin Mary holding Jesus below cross Grotto of the Redemption West Bend Iowa

Here you’ll find a statue of Mary holding Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. The Grotto of the Redemption notes that this is a tribute to Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.

The entombment of Jesus – Grotto of the Redemption

Statue of men carrying Jesus to the tomb after crucified

In Station XIV, you’ll find marble statues of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus holding the body of Christ.

The resurrection – Grotto of the Redemption

Statue He is Risen He is not Here Grotto of the Redemption

He is risen. He is not here. In this alcove of the grotto, you’ll find this message as well as statues illustrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Grotto of the Redemption tours

You may take a self-guided tour at the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. Or they also welcome large groups and even school groups as the grotto is a perfect geological classroom. For many, the grotto is a pilgrimage destination to pray, meditate, and reflect.

Entrance to this beautiful shrine is free; however, donations are accepted to continue Father Dobberstein’s mission.  

What is the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption made out of?

Iowa’s hidden gem is literally made of gems. According to the Grotto of the Redemption, this shrine features a number of materials including minerals, petrified wood, and precious and semi-precious stones, such as:

  • Malachite
  • Azurite
  • Agates
  • Geodes (Iowa’s state rock)
  • Jasper
  • Quartz
  • Topaz
  • Calcite
  • Stalactites
  • Stalagmites


Many visitors donate rocks, stones and other materials to benefit the ongoing maintenance of the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption.


Where to stay near the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

The Grotto of the Redemption is off the beaten path. While you could take a day trip here from Des Moines or the Twin Cities, you can also camp. The Grotto Campgrounds features 53 sites for campers and tents.

Facts about the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend, Iowa

Aerial view of Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend Iowa

Here are a few good-to-know facts about the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption.

  • The world’s largest man-made grotto was largely built by only three men
  • Largest collection of precious and semi-precious stones in one location
  • Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is open 24 hours, 7 days a week
  • Attracts 100,000 visitors annually
  • Listed on the National Register of Historical Places
  • The grotto covers an entire city block
  • West Bend’s population: ~757


Grotto of the Redemption photo gallery


Interior of Grotto of the Redemption Shrine West Bend Iowa with blue sky

If you’re looking for meaningful things to do in Iowa, add the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend to your travel bucket list. It’s more than just a roadside attraction in Iowa. The Grotto of the Redemption is a memorial of faith, inspiration, promise-keeping, commitment, and passion.

Until you get the opportunity to visit the Grotto of the Redemption, enjoy a few more images my husband and I captured. You can find additional images, videos, and information on the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption’s website.

Hidden Gem Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Hidden Gem Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Statue of archangel Michael defeating the devil Grotto of the Redemption

Angel statue on Easter Sunday Grotto of the Redemption West Bend Iowa

Statues of Adam and Eve at Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa

Pin it for later: Top things to do in Iowa – The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption


Author

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

66 comments

  1. Is this near the eastern border by any chance? We may be visiting Iowa sooner rather than later (after the Covid-19).

    1. It’s so amazing that most of the work was done by only two to three men. Such dedication and passion. I hope you get the opportunity.

  2. This is absolutely beautiful and such an oasis in Iowa. I travel to Des Moines for work sometimes. I might have to put this on the list of things to do there.

  3. This is beautiful and especially during Holy Week. I would love to see this in person. Your photos are absolutely incredible. I Will put on my bucket list for sure. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I’ve never been to Iowa, and I’ve never heard of this before. We are currently doing a “50 States Before Graduation Challenge,” and planning to visit all 50 states before our oldest graduates from high school in 2027. Iowa is obviously still on our list of states to visit, so I will add this to the list of possible sights to see. Thanks for sharing.

    1. My pleasure. That’s an awesome challenge! I’m nowhere near visiting all 50 states…I should tally them up to see where I am now.

    1. We went a few times when I was a child as it was my father’s favorite place. Last summer I was feeling nostalgic and decided to visit. I’m definitely going to return more frequently.

  5. I love gems and crystals, so the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is definitely a must-see for me. Love your pictures!

  6. I can’t believe this grotto is in Iowa! If I ever need a Euro fix, I’ll just take a quick trip to this MidWest hidden gem. Your pictures are always so moving.

    1. Thank you so much! It is hard to believe this grotto is just a couple of hours away in Iowa. I’ll be taking more trips now that I’ve rediscovered this special place. I hope you get the opportunity to take a quick road trip to check it out.

  7. I love how it says He is Risen, He is gone of the Resurrection and Glory to God in the Highest. Seeing beautiful statues are faith building and helps me know these events really happened and that Jesus Christ will come again.

  8. That is absolutely mind blowing to know that only 3 men built this! It looks incredible in the photos so I can only imagine what it looks like in person! I’ll be adding it to our list. Thank you!

  9. While I’m not the most religious, I do enjoy visiting a good grotto. This one seems huge and rather beautiful. Can’t believe it’s made out of just gems.

    1. The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is a beautiful destination in Iowa. Definitely worth the drive off the beaten path.

    1. I hope you do get the opportunity to witness this labor of love. The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in Iowa is so beautiful.

  10. My mom’s home town. I was there so many times that I think I could have given the free tours they offer in the summer months.

  11. Prior to reading your post I have never heard of the Grotto of the Redemption. I’d love to take a trip to Iowa to see this beautiful shrine in person.

  12. Wow, I don’t think I have ever seen something like this before – no wonder you remember it so clearly from your childhood. What an interesting place to visit in Iowa, and not something that necessarily springs to mind either!

    1. The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption definitely left an impression. So happy I had the opportunity to return to this hidden gem in Iowa.

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