Rudolph Grotto

The Wonder Cave

The north end of the garden is dominated by a man-made mountain of gossan rock concealing the labyrinth of the Wonder Cave. What began in 1935 as a grotto scene of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane grew into the far more complex and ambitious Wonder Cave by the time it was finished in 1957.

Old Mission Light

A more recent photo shows the Wonder Cave grown over in vines and lush plantings. The amorphous shape of the outside of the cave, the flowers and the dark mouth of the cave make for a primeval scene. Paying a small fee at the gift shop, we prepare to enter the hidden passages within!

Ducking down to enter the maw, our eyes adjust to the dim light and follow a pipe railing down a rough rock tunnel into the depths of the cave. The walls of the tunnel curve right and left, the floor slopes gently downwards and upwards, the ceiling sometimes lower, sometimes higher. In places the ceiling breaks through to the shell of the mountain and we peek out to greenery and a tiny bit of sky betwen the rocks. Soon we are completely disoriented.

Here and there are sheets of tin with tiny puched holes lit by colored lights set in the walls. Most are simple words and pious reminders for proper living, but some are elaborate and beautiful, like constellations of hundreds of bright stars. The imagery seems traced from Sunday School handouts and children's coloring books of the 1940s and 50s, charming and quaint.

Impossibly, the labyrinth seems larger than the mountain that contains it. At some point we realize that there are several levels inside, and our path has doubled back on itself so that we can peer through a hole near the floor and see a tunnel below that we've already explored. The passageways twisting and turning make for a journey of one-fifth of a mile!

Suddenly we enter a large chamber in the heart of the Wonder Cave. The echoes of water trickling through a fountain and pool animate the suddenly airy space of this cavern. Jesus seems to have lost his way into this eerie chamber and is now praying in a stone garden of leafless petrified trees somewhere down in a cold hollow of the Mount of Olives. Above this frozen scene a spectacular dome of crystal stars twinkling in the dim colored light forms the roof of the chamber.

The path continues its tortuous journey through the mountain, up and down, round and about. We get a glimpse into the central chamber again, this time from a balcony above, and eventually march up a ramp back into the sunlight and summer warmth on top of the mountain.

From the top of the mountain, we are given a choice to return to earth: "Short Way" or "Long Way". Taking the scenic route leads us on an equally twisty pathway up and down the contours of the top of the Wonder Cave, with bridges spanning miniature canyons and flowerbeds blocking any shortcuts towards the way down. Eventually we are deposited back where we started and take the stairs of the "short way" back down. The hour is late and its time to leave the gardens and get back on the road.

References and Links to the Rudolph Grotto and Wonder Cave

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presented by Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi


Copyright ©2012 Matt Bergstrom