Iowa has a rich history of faithful followers that criss-crossed the state looking for religious freedom and a place to call home.
While Methodist was the predominant faith during frontier times, Iowa also played host to numerous other religions including Jewish, Mennonite, Roman Catholic, Congregational, Lutheran, Mormon and those of American Indians. Each faith left its mark, evidenced by Iowa's many interesting religious sites.
*‚Ä The Rev. Paul Dobberstein, a German immigrant, built the Grotto of the Redemption in the northwest Iowa town of West Bend. While suffering from a serious illness, Dobberstein vowed that he would build a shrine to Mary, the mother of Jesus, if he recovered. In 1898, Dobberstein began work on what would eventually be considered the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Today, the Grotto boasts the largest collection of minerals and fossils in the world. Its geological value is estimated as high as $4.3 million. The Grotto is open all year and welcomes more than 100,000 visitors annually. Hourly tours are available from May 1 to October 15.
*‚Ä Travelers to Logan in west central Iowa will find one of Iowa's relatively new religious attractions. Paul and Helen Lovell created the Museum of Religious Arts in 1994. The museum preserves and exhibits religious arts, tradition, and culture to foster an appreciation of religious history. The museum houses thousands of religious artifacts, an impressive library of religious books and articles. A theater offers films on the Holy Land and interprets spirituality from various perspectives. The museum is open throughout the year.
*‚Ä The famous song, "Church in the Wildwood," describes the Little Brown Church in the Vale in Nashua. A young music teacher named of William Pitts penned the song after visiting the scenic northeast Iowa town. He had imagined a charming church and parsonage nestled on the picturesque site. When he returned to Nashua several years later, he was stunned to find a church that practically equaled his original vision. Today the church is a popular location for weddings, hosting its 70,000th wedding in June 2000. More than 60,000 visitors see the church each year and take turns ringing its famous bell.
*‚Ä Religious architecture offers some of Iowa's most compelling building designs. The Basilica of St. John in Des Moines is patterned in the style of Northern Italian, or Lombardy Romanesque. It resembles St. Paul's Basilica outside the walls of Rome. Before being named a basilica by the Roman Catholic Church in 1989, the Church of St. John was named to the National Register of Historical Places. The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville is a fine example of true medieval Gothic architecture. Designated a basilica in 1956, St. Francis Xavier is home to more than 5,000 parishioners. Its fa√Āade is graced with twin 212-foot spires that can be seen for miles and 64 stained glass windows. Visitors to both churches are encouraged to call ahead for daily mass and tour times.
*‚Ä In 1979, Pope John Paul II said his first Mass west of the Mississippi River in Urbandale. Today at this very spot stands the non-denominational Church of the Land, on the grounds of Living History Farms in suburban Des Moines. An example of Prairie Gothic architecture popularized in the 1870s, the church is part of the re-created town of Walnut Hill. The church is open daily as part of the Living History Farms tours from May 1 through the third weekend in October.
*‚Ä Near a quaint Luxembourg village of St. Donatus, a National Historic District, is the Way of the Cross. Built in 1861, the structure is made of 14 brick alcoves that highlight Jesus' last days. It and the adjoining St. Donatus Church are on the National Register of Historic Places.
*‚Ä A 30-foot stainless steel statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Peace, overlooks circular walkways with lush gardens and prayer stations at Trinity Heights in Sioux City. An outdoor cathedral area features a similar 33-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and more than 30 works of art depicting Christian history.
Editor's note: Shawna Lode is an information specialist with the Iowa Division of Tourism. Learn more about Iowa's many religious sites by visiting www.traveliowa.com. Or call 800-345-IOWA and request a free Iowa travel packet.