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Dickeyville Grotto

 The priest never used blueprints, but worked all
the many designs out of his head.
Father Wilerus, transplanted Alsatian, built around this plain Wisconsin redbrick church a coral-reef en- crustation--meant, the brochure says, to glorify America and heaven simul- taneously.
Thus: Mary and Columbus and the Sacred Heart equally enthroned in a fantasia of quartz and seashells, broken dishes, stalactites and stick-shift knobs-- no separation of nature and art for Father Wilerus! He's built fabulous blooms --bristling mosaic tiles bunched into chipped, permanent roses--- and more glisteny stuff than I can catalogue, which seems to he the point: a spectacle, saints and Stars and Stripes billowing in hillocks of concrete.
Stubborn insistence on rendering invisibles solid.
What's more frankly actual than cement? Surfaced, here, in pure decor: even the railings curlicued with rows of identical whelks, even the lampposts and birdhouses, and big encrusted urns wagging with lunar flowers! A little dizzy, the world he's made, and completely unapologetic, high on a hill in Dickeyville so the wind whips around like crazy.
A bit pigheaded, yet full of love for glitter qua glitter, sheer materiality; a bit foolhardy and yet -- sly sparkle -- he's made matter giddy.
Exactly what he wanted, I'd guess: the very stones gone lacy and beaded, an airy intricacy of froth and glimmer.
For God? Country? Lucky man: his purpose pales beside the fizzy, weightless fact of rock.

by Mark Doty
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