Mount Mercy University will reenact a cherished 30-year tradition during the Grotto May Day Celebration on Tuesday, May 1, from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. at Mount Mercy's historic Lady of Sorrows Grotto. Entertainment will include a reenactment of the 1920s Isadora Duncan scarf dance – once widely held on campus – and performances of 1930s music by Mount Mercy's Communication, Literature & Arts Department. The event is free and open to the public; seating may be limited.
Guests will be treated to a historical background on the Grotto and its architect, William Lightner, as well as offered tours showcasing the types of semi-precious minerals used in the Grotto structures, such as the arched bridge and the Ten Commandment colonnade. Visitors can also enjoy reenactment black and white photos as they enjoy posing as "scarf dancers," and pick up free copies of “Grotto Stories,” a collection of stories from the Sisters of Mercy and the Mound Farm Neighborhood about the grotto.
In previous years, the annual May Day celebration involved crowning the May Queen, presenting music and dance performances, and capturing photo opportunities. This annual event took place from 1928 – 1958 on campus.
A favorite location on Mount Mercy's campus, Lightner was inspired to create the Grotto to express his personal artistic vision and religious faith. He started with a single structure to pay homage to his conversion to Catholicism as well as a response to a request by the Sisters of Mercy. Over a period of 12 years, Lightner's vision grew to include what would become Our Mother (Lady) of Sorrows Grotto and park.
The Grotto's features included a bridge surrounded by a lagoon, a 10-column structure representing the Ten Commandments, and a central shrine, which contained the mosaics of the seven sorrows of Christ's mother. Suppliers around the world provided more than 300 unique varieties of stones for the structure.
In the late 1960s, the Grotto and Lagoon had fallen to ruins as finances to maintain the structure dwindled. The lagoon was drained in 1970, and due to erosion, lack of funding, and vandalism, the main structure of the Grotto was leveled in 1974. In the summer of 2011 the first stage of the Grotto's preservation was completed, coinciding with the development of the new University Center.
The re-establishment of this cherished structure was made possible by the Iowa Arts Council's Major Organizations Grant to Mount Mercy University. In case of rain, Grotto May Day festivities will take place in the University Center on campus.
"Every now and then one man creates with his own hands and mind, something unusual, beautiful and expressive. Just such a construction is William Lightner’s (Our Mother of Sorrows) grotto and shrine begun in 1929 and today donated to all who will see it. Mount Mercy has a great artist treasure." — Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 10, 1941