The best part of STL250 Cakeway to the West, for me, is finally taking the time to visit and blog about some of the places I have been meaning to get to for years. Think about that the next time someone says this city is boring: I have been writing this blog for almost 7 years and still haven't run out of new things to talk about. I've been aware of the Black Madonna Shrine & Grottoes for as long as I can remember, but I had no idea what it's really about, or what to expect.
First of all, why is it called Black Madonna? Well, the answer is two-fold. A Black Madonna, in general, is a painting of the Virgin Mary that shows her with dark skin. Before the Renaissance, there were no pale, blond, blue-eyed depictions of Mary and Jesus. They lived in a hot climate and would have had olive or dark skin. THE Black Madonna, in the case of this Shrine, refers to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, an icon that resides at Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland. There she is known at Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Peace and Mercy. You can see the Black Madonna of Czestochowa at the back of the shrine in the first photo, and a close-up above.
Why is there a Polish style Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Eureka, Missouri of all places? Franciscan Brothers from Poland arrived here in 1927 to build a nursing home. The Shrine and Grottoes are the work of a single man, Brother Bronislaus Luszcz, one of those Polish Franciscans. He started the grottoes in 1937 and worked until he died, literally in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Grotto, in 1960. When you look at all of this work as a whole, and know that it was the work of one person, it's pretty spectacular. I highly recommend visiting it to get the full scale of the place.
The grottoes are made from Missouri barite, a mineral that is also known as "tiff rock", that is commonly used today for drilling oil and gas wells. The sea shells and jewelry you see when you look closely at the grottoes were gifts from visitors or sent from foreign missions.