Secret Grotto, Secret Shrine

Years ago, on what I recalled as a long walk with my friend Candy, we happened upon an amazing discovery. Actually, Candy knew about it and wanted to show me, but it was a discovery for me. Candy called it a “grotto”. I didn’t really know what a grotto was and as the years went by the image of this grotto, in my mind’s eye, became a pagan temple where modern day witches might worship. I imagined that it was built by Pantheists in the early- to mid-1900s and was secretly kept up by followers of non-traditional faiths. I’d been thinking about it recently because I thought it was something that my daughter would like to see.

Candy and I visited the grotto again this past Wednesday and although I was wrong about the religion, I was right about the purpose — it was a place for worship. It was obviously built by Christians, however, not Pantheists. Symbols of Christianity are all over the structure, so much that it might be better called a shrine. I was also wrong about the location. I thought it was in Elgin and far away from civilization. (or as far away as possible in an urban area) In fact it is a few minutes walk from the Kane County Government center in Geneva, Illinois.

Grotto Shrine in Geneva, Illinois

Candy knew little about its history, so we stopped by the nearby government center to ask about it and the history of the government center buildings. The first person we asked didn’t even know the grotto/shrine existed. The second person we asked looked at us strangely and told us to ask down the hall. The third person we asked told us that the buildings had once been a seminary for monks and they used to worship at the shrine/grotto. She said that occasionally people from “out East” who have some connection with the monks stop by to visit the former seminary.

Candy and I then tried asking about the buildings and grotto at the Geneva History Center and neither of the volunteers on duty knew about the history of the buildings at the government center. One volunteer said that if we wanted someone to research it for us we could request it, but it would cost us money. I politely declined and said I would try to find information online.

I did find a few references to the shrine/grotto in Geneva, Illinois — most were pretty much the same text, however one was much more detailed [PDF, 226KB).

Apparently the Grotto Shrine (which is what the Neighbors of Geneva article* calls it) was designed and built by a Jesuit priest from Germany who came to the Sacred Heart Seminary to study to be a missionary. According to the article, “on special feast days the missionaries and seminarians would walk in candlelight procession to the outdoor chapel.”

While the grotto shrine was not what I remembered it to be, it still fascinates me and I look forward to showing it to my daughter someday. I’m also a little fascinated that no one we talked to knew much, if anything, about the grotto shrine. If I worked at the government center, I know I would want to know as much as possible about the history of the buildings I worked in. I guess everyone is not that way.

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*coincidentally written by the Geneva History Center

3 thoughts on “Secret Grotto, Secret Shrine

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