St. Mary of the Oaks Shrine (Cross Plains, Wisconsin)
Here is a shrine where you least expect it – on the top of a hill in a county-owned park. St. Mary of the Oaks Shrine can be found in Indian Lake Park in Cross Plains, Wisconsin (just north-west of Madison). I kept wanting to go, but weather reports were (falsely) predicting rain. Finally, on May 23rd, I decided to just go after school – it was too nice of a day to really get rain!
As I mentioned, this shrine is actually in a Dane County park. It’s about a 15 minute drive from Madison and has absolutely gorgeous scenery. There are several hiking trails, and it’s not immediately obvious which one goes to the shrine. For future reference, if you’re standing with the park entrance to your left, the trail immediately in front of you is the one you want – there’s a brown sign there that will confirm it once you get closer.
On the brow of a hill, one-half mile east overlooking Indian Lake, rests a tiny stone chapel. The structure was built in 1857 by John Endres in fulfillment of a religious vow he made in return for protecting the lives of his family during a diptheria epidemic. Aided by his son Peter, Endres hauled several tons of stone to the hilltop by an ox team. The building had been much venerated by local families for several generations. Family names identified with care of the chapel are Endres, Ballweg, and Marx. The chapel was formally dedicated by Archbishop Messmer in 1926.
Certainly no small feat! But, Endres picked a beautiful location, and what a wonderful tribute that has been taken care of by generations.
One thing to note if you plan on visiting – you will come to a fork in the road at one point, and you’ll want to go left. It’s unmarked, and the fork sneaks up on you, so you may not even notice it. Luckily, I happened to run across a blog post by someone else before I went warning me to bear left.
The trail is short – it’s definitely less than a mile to the shrine at the top of the hill. It’s not a difficult climb (I did it with two cameras and a tripod on my shoulder), but they do have many benches along the second half of the path for resting.
There’s a informational display just in front of the shrine. I’ll copy the byline below the picture, but you can zoom in and read the paragraphs and the annotations on the picture too.
When the Chapel was built…
…Wisconsin had been a state just 9 years and the landscape was being settled by European immigrants. In this area, most immigrants came from Germany, and many had stone masonry skills. This tiny chapel reflects the building methods of German settlers and the simple rural chapels of their homeland.
The shrine has a small fence around it, probably to keep unwanted critters out. It’s not locked though, so it’s available to visit when the park is open.
You may not be able to see it in the above picture, but the door has a pretty stained glass cross set in it, although part of the glass is broken.
I read online that the shrine could fit maybe four people comfortably. From the outside, it looked bigger than that to me, but I would say that’s a pretty accurate statement once I looked inside (this is taken from the doorway).
Front and center is the Blessed Virgin:
In front of the statues is a large Bible, some flowers, and two notebooks overflowing with love and intercessions.
Lining the walls of the shrine interior are pictures, as well as a plaque. The plaque is in German, and aside from the fact that I speak no German, it was difficult to get a good picture to try and translate it. But for those out there who can read German, you can click on the picture to see a bigger version where you can zoom in.
Finally, there are flowers surrounding the shrine. Really, a whole variety of flowers.
I’m not one to usually photograph flowers (nothing against them, it’s just difficult), but the lighting was so perfect for them that I couldn’t resist…
If you go a little ways further on the path past the shrine, you come out at this overlook of the park (with what I assume is Indian Lake):
I’ve been traveling the past week, hence the lack of posts. I’ll have some churches from my travels going up in the next several weeks, so I’m all back on track now!