BLACK MADONNA SHRINE & GROTTOS
||This was the first grotto environment we stumbled across, to
our astonishment and delight. In August 1987, returning from a road trip to New Mexico,
Suzanne spotted a sign along I-44 near St. Louis. "Black Madonna Shrine!" she
called, and I pulled off at once, out of the heavy traffic and onto a peaceful artery
where bees in the trumpet vines were the only busyness.
|Both half Polish, we had grown up hearing miracle stories of
the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, whose powerful virtue knocked her attackers
||dead, and who had even answered some of our own prayers. But we
were unprepared for the folk art wonderland to which she led us now.
||Brother Bronislaus Luszcz immigrated from Poland in
1927 at the age of 34, with the Franciscan Missionary Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who
came to the area to open a nursing home. Ten years later, he built a rustic chapel to the
Black Madonna on their land. This attracted pilgrims, and in 1938 Bro. Bronislaus began
the work that would occupy the rest of his life: building stations of the cross and
rosary, a bridge, and several large grottos. To a basic medium of local barite rock, he
added donations of costume jewelry, pottery, and shells, artfully arranged in colored
cement, together with flora, fauna, and fanciful shapes of molded cement.
|We had noticed the splendor underfoot in Missouri.
"Don't look down!" we'd say, getting out of the car, afraid of being held in the
parking lot by the crystalline gravel. A park ranger who sold us a guide to minerals of
the state summed it up simply: "We're blessed with rocks."
||In 1958, vandals burned the chapel. Two years
later, Brother Bronislaus collapsed and died at his grotto to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
The Black Madonna's chapel has been rebuilt as an open-air mosaic pavilion.
From I-44, exit at either Eureka or Pacific & drive 8 miles south.
Open daily spring & summer 8 am - 8 pm. Free; parking $1.
See also www.blackmadonnashrine.org/.