St. Meinrad, IN: St. Meinrad Archabbey

The Lourdes grotto in the crypt under the Archabbey Church building in a 1950s postcard. Dramatic rocky stalactites protruded menacingly from the interior roof of the cave, and mountain scenes were painted on the wall behind the grotto.

The Grotto and Altar of Our Lady of Lourdes in the crypt of St. Meinrad Archabbey was built in 1908 by Edward J. Koenig (the Abbey Church had just been finished in 1907). Three newspaper announcements in the Ferdinand News were made about his work during that summer:

Ferdinand News, August 21, 1908
Ferdinand News, September 11, 1908
Ferdinand News, September 25, 1908

Koenig did not mention this important client in his brochure for some reason, but it’s likely that he did several projects at St. Meinrad, based on the style and period shown in photos (as well as the plural “grottos” in the first of the above articles):

This Grotto of the Youthful Hermit St. Benedict portrays the young Benedict at age fifteen. The rockwork with stalactites is nearly identical to that in the Lourdes grotto, and both grottos were likely built in the crypt at the same time.
This altar with Pieta and Christ Sepulcher looks like the style of rockwork that Koenig built, and was likely built around the same period as his two grottos.
Additionally, this Nativity scene crib employed the same porous tufa rock and rustic branch work as Koenig’s outdoor work, and the painted background scenery resembled that in the Lourdes grotto shown above. Koenig was later known to provide Christmas crib scenes for clients.

A number of articles published during the 1920s described the grottos in the crypt and the Pieta and Sepulcher:

Indianapolis Star, June 17, 1923

The visitor to St. Meinrad must be sure to visit the crypt, the most beautiful part of the church. A small chapel is in the crypt and during Holy week a constant vigil is kept by the monks from Holy Thursday until Easter morning. The altar in this chapel is made of cave rock. The top shows two life-sized figures: Jesus just after being taken from the cross, and in the arms of His mother. The base of the altar shows Jesus in the tomb. This is also a life-sized statue.

In the southwest part of the crypt is located a replica of the famous Grotto of Lourdes in France.

One of the most beautiful of statues is also in the crypt. It is a life-sized statue of St. Benedict as he appeared at the age of 15 years. He is shown wearing the shepherd costume which is the garb of all Benedictine monks.

Indianapolis Star, June 17, 1923

The first two postcard images shown above were published in the mid-1950s, so the crypt grottos still existed then. But two major renovations of the Archabbey Church building have taken place, in the 1970s and in 1996-1997, and no modern photos of the crypt grottos can be found. It is doubtful they survived to the present.

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