Our Mother (Lady) of Sorrows Grotto

Visionary artist and contractor William Lightner built the Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto complex on the Mount Mercy University campus between 1929 to 1941.

A focal point of the original complex was a Grotto Shrine to the Virgin Mary (no longer extant); radiating out from this monument. Lightner created two commanding Roman entry arches, an elaborate bridge, and a temple-like monument to the Ten Commandments, erected on an island in the lagoon. The monuments are ornamented with phrases expressing Catholic devotion and mottos regarding the Virgin Mary as the Mother of Sorrows. 

One of only a few remaining major Grotto sites in the Midwest, Mount Mercy's Grotto has been the subject of several documentary films and academic articles. The Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto complex has anchored Mount Mercy University as a treasured and unique feature of the campus for nearly ninety years now. It has undergone major changes over the years, especially the demolition of the primary grotto shrine structure in 1974 and the elimination of the lagoon in 1970.

After Lightner’s death, there was a lack of resources to maintain the Grotto. However, in recent years the remaining structures and landscaping have been beautifully maintained through grants and the generosity of private donations. A preservation grant from the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Outdoor Sculpture (SOS!) in 2001 began the restoration process. Major grants from the Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts will help complete the restoration project in 2012-2014. If you wish to help us match these grants please e-mail Danielle Rings at drings@mtmercy.edu.