Grotto May Day Celebration returns to Mount Mercy Campus

Grotto May Day Celebration at Mount Mercy

Mount Mercy University will reenact a cherished 30-year tradition during the Grotto May Day Celebration on Friday, May 2, from 3 – 5 p.m. at Mount Mercy’s historic Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto. Entertainment will include a reenactment of the 1920s Isadora Duncan scarf dance – once a common practice on campus – and performances by student soloists representing Mount Mercy’s Music Department.  Maypole dances and door prizes are just a few of the offerings. 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 tours showcasing the types of semi-precious minerals used in such Grotto structures as the Arched Bridge and the Ten Commandment Colonnade. Visitors can also enjoy reenactment black and white photos as they pose as scarf dancers.

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 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 summer of 2011, the first stage of the Grotto’s preservation was completed, coinciding with the development of the University Center.

In 2001, Lightner’s Grotto was awarded a Save Outdoor Sculpture (S.O.S.) grant from the Smithsonian Institution’s American Heritage Millennium Project. Further restoration was supported by a 2011 Iowa Arts Council’s Major Organizations Grant and a 2012-2014 National Endowment for the Arts ARTWORKS Grant. Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto is currently in the final stages of acceptance for the National Register of Historic Places.

In case of heavy rain, Grotto May Day festivities will have to be cancelled.


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