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!


31 thoughts on “St. Mary of the Oaks Shrine (Cross Plains, Wisconsin)

  1. Good Morning,

    I’ve come to visit because Stacey posted about you as part of the “Pay It Forward” blog hop.

    The first thing I did when I got here was to scroll, I couldn’t help myself! Your photography is amazing. But, then I zipped back up to the top to read about your amazing journey. Incredible! I will be a frequent visitor from now on.

  2. Stacy is turning out to be a great leader to good blogs. Glad she led me here.

    Can’t wait to read more but had to comment on this first post. WHat a spot! Wish we had something like that around here. I can just imagine my husband loving that walk and tiny chapel!

    Great blog focus and photography!

  3. This is adorable and holy! I live in Milwaukee so it’s a short drive for me to visit. I’ve never heard of this shrine before, so thanks much for the introduction! I’ll just have to see about making some plans this summer! Also have to get to Our Lady of Good Help!

  4. I came here from Stacy’s blog… this is great! Thank you for sharing these beautiful places with us. I feel as if I went to this little shrine with you. The photos are excellent. I’ll be back to visit more.

  5. I just found your blog tonight after my husbands grandmother was telling me the story of how her great, great, grandfather Endres built this chapel in Wisconsin on a hillside. This is part of my in-laws family legacy and it is great to know that it still stands. I hope to visit this site someday to show my children.

    • Lisa, The builder of the Chapel, John Endres, is my Great Grandfather. My Grandfather and family moved to Texas in 1895 (or so), settling in Muenster, Texas, and that is where I and my children live. Contact me anytime. Phone 940 759 2533. Mail: P. O. Box 250, Muenster, TX 76252

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    • Aunt Dianne, our next family reunion/vacation should be to Wisconsin to see this. What an amazing story! I didn’t know anything about this until I got Uncle Phil’s email about it. Really beautiful piece of our family history!

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  8. When I was a graduate student 20 years ago, we often picnicked with friends at Indian Lake. I recall stumbling upon this lovely old shrine once when we were out hiking and often wondered if I had imagined it, as it seemed so improbable find such a thing in a county park. It’s nice to know this beautiful little chapel still exists.

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  10. It was my great, great grandfather that built this beautiful chapel. I visit it everytime I make a trip back to WI. Since I didn’t get back there this last summer it’s great to visit it on this site. thank you so much.

  11. This was such a fun blog post to find! I actually had someone ask if I could photograph their wedding ceremony here, and had never heard of the place – lovely setting. Can’t wait to explore it!

    • Glad you found this useful! The shrine really is a gorgeous place with a fascinating history behind it – truly a unique part of local history. Hope you have wonderful weather for the wedding!

      • It really is such a unique and beautiful location! I couldn’t do that wedding because I’m already booked for a wedding tomorrow, but my husband and I went to check it out- wound up hiking the area for an entire day. So beautiful! Now one of our favorite places. So glad I found your post, or I never would have suggested we check it out! 🙂

  12. Yes this is a lovely Chapel and Shrine, which I have visited several times, and am proud to say that my Great Grandfather John Endres built this edifice in 1857. Am working on the Endres genealogy, so if any of my kin wish to contact me, I would appreciate it.

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  14. I was so excited to find this blog…I am a descendant of the Endres family and have visited the shrine with my aunts. My grandmother was Louise Endres she was married to Henry W. Niesen, my grandfather. My mother was Theresa Niesen Miller. I am Barbara Miller Pope. My aunts that took us to the shrine…we prayed the rosary up the hill to the shrine were: Isabel Niesen Kalschuer, Doris Pertzborn, Lydia Pertzborn, Mildred Donis, Maryann and Rose Heller. Any further information you have about the building of the shrine and miracles would be so appreciated!!

  15. It’s winter here in Wisconsin and I was just internet searching for pics of my favorite places. I we many times in the 80s and 90s. It’s so peaceful.

    Thank you for the beautiful pics.

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