Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame

An early postcard of the grotto on the Notre Dame campus

The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on the Notre Dame campus might be the most well-known Lourdes grotto in the United States.

It was built in 1896, which makes it one of the older grottos in the US. Two articles from that year announced its construction and its dedication:

South Bend Tribune, May 6, 1896
(click for more detail)

GROTTO OF LOURDES, Fac Simile at Notre Dame of the Famous Shrine In France: When recently it was determined to construct here at Notre Dame a facsimile of the Grotto of Lourdes, the question of site aroused a great deal of discussion. Some were of the opinion that the hill near the seminary offered exceptional advantages in point of natural beauty and fitness; while other thought that the ground around “Calvary” was the only ideal situation. In the end, however, neither of these places was chosen. Just behind the presbytery is a little wooded dell which has always been regarded as one of the charming spots of Notre Dame….

It is here that the grotto has been built…. it is easy to testify to its similarity to the famous European shrine. As a matter of course, it is constructed entirely of unhewn rock. Great bowlders, some of them weighing as much as two and three tons, go to make up the foundation, and even near the keystone of the arch the stones are so large as to give one an impression of instability. All this lends a natural grandeur to the work and saves it from artificiality.

A curious thing happened while the laborers were digging for the foundation. Just to the left of the cavern, in relatively the same spot from which the miraculous flow at Lourdes proceeds, a spring of the clearest water was accidentally struck. To say the least, the coincidence is remarkable. Although it will be some time before the work around the grotto is fully finished things were sufficiently cleared up on Aug. 12 to receive the first pilgrimage. On that day a statue of Our Lady Lourdes was carried in procession and placed with appropriate ceremony in the niche which had been prepared for it.

South Bend Tribune, August 28, 1896 (excerpted)
This photo from 1896, the year in which the grotto was built, is the oldest known photo of it. A Bernadette statue can be glimpsed among the kneeling visitors, showing that a Bernadette was included from the start in this grotto. (Wikimedia Commons)

The 1896 grotto was not the first Lourdes grotto built on the Notre Dame campus: the Rev. Edward Sorin, the French priest who founded the University in 1842, traveled to the holy site at Lourdes, France in 1873 and built a Lourdes shrine at Notre Dame in 1878. After his death in 1893, his fragile wood shrine was replaced with a more durable stone cave-like grotto.

A closeup of the only known photo of the first Lourdes grotto at Notre Dame University, built in 1878 next to the Sacred Heart Basilica. It was called a grotto, although it was not built in the form of a rocky cave and more closely resembled a traditional shrine. The statues of Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette were enclosed in a wood and glass case on a stone base. The Romanesque round-arched glass windows in the case contrasted with the Gothic pointed arch windows in the Basilica.

The Notre Dame University grotto was a place of pilgrimage for decades.

A postcard with a 1908 postmark does not show a Bernadette statue…
…yet a postcard with a 1911 postmark shows that a Bernadette (perhaps a different one on a taller base than that shown in the 1896 photo) has again been placed at the grotto.

For readers who want to know more about the details and stories connected with the long history of this grotto, I recommend the thoroughly researched book, A Cave of Candles by Dorothy V. Corson.

The Notre Dame University grotto continues to be a peaceful place for students and visitors, even after more than a century.

The Notre Dame University grotto as it appeared in 2008. (Wikimedia Commons)

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