How one man’s act of devotion created one of the Midwest’s most sacred shrines. Come with me as we explore the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottoes
Pacific, Missouri is a small town located in the exurbs of Saint Louis. To the locals the city is most well known for being near the location of the Six Flags Theme Park, Only a few know that the city also houses of the Midwest’s most sacred shrines. The Shrine of the Black Madonna.
The Shrine and the neighboring grottoes are on the grounds of a Franciscan Friary. The Order was originally founded by Polish immigrants who arrived in the area starting in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1937, a polish Monk named Brother Bronislaus Luszcz who grew up near the Black Madonna Shrine in the town of Czestochowa (pronounced Chance-ta-hova) felt compelled to replicate the shrine as an offering of thanksgiving for his safe passage to his adopted home.
Using only an ax and sledgehammer and without any assistance Brother Bronislaus spent the last 23yrs of his life building the grounds. Breaking the rocks creating a hollow and building the walls he created a total of ten grottoes and a shrine. Only local material and stones were used. Flowers, sheep, and rabbits were molded from concrete. Cement covered coffee cans became pillars and broken glass bottles became makeshift gemstones. Nothing was spared to make his art. Costume jewelry others had thrown away or donated., marbles and light bulbs it all went in. The only thing he didn’t make was the statues which were carved by another immigrant. The work was brutal and exacting the friar did all for the love of the “sacred mother”.
The Black Madonna is Poland’s most venerated religious artifact. The painting is rich in legend. Hand-painted by Saint Luke while sitting with Mary the mother of Christ, the painting was hidden during the time of persecution and resurfaced during the crusades. The painting was taken to Constantinople where it hung for five centuries until the chapel that housed the painting burned to the ground. Only the painting was left but it had been darkened by the smoke and soot. After the fire, the painting was moved to Kiev, Ukraine where it hung for another 500 years. Under attack by the Tartars, the painting was again moved to its present location in Poland.
Given the very turbulent history of Poland, it is understandable how this painting would be so revered by the Poles. The painting abides, throughout all the conflict and attempts to destroy it. Poland is very much like this painting. Despite been totally eliminated as a country by invading powers many times, the polish national identity has remained intact. Everyone from the Swedes, the Prussians, Bolsheviks, Nazis, and the Soviets have tried to destroy the polish Identity. But Poland and the Polish remain. As long as the Black Madonna survives Poland survives it is said.
Given just how sacred the painting is to the Polish people. It puts Brother Bronislaus devotion to the shrine and the Grottoes in a new light. The work truly was a labor of love and brought something very precious from a continent away to the Midwest.
The Grottoes and Shrine are free, but donations are of course gratefully accepted. The shrine is located in Pacific, Missouri just off Interstate 44 near the Six Flags, Eureka exit. The grounds are beautiful and worth the visit. You could spend easily a couple hours just admiring all the detailed work.