Following an anonymous donation, 125-year-old Grotto receives summer revamp
Cate Von Dohlen | Friday, August 30, 2019
The Grotto, which is frequented by students, faculty and visitors of the University every day, underwent major renovations over the summer months. The University received a gift from an anonymous benefactor to replace the asphalt pavement and widen the east stairs, Doug Marsh, the principal overseer of the project, said in an email.
Marsh said the Grotto has undergone other renovation projects prior to the most recent one this past summer.
“The University has carefully cared for the Grotto for its approximately 125 years of existence as one of the most sacred places on our beloved campus,” Marsh said.
The most recent renovations included a wider staircase for improved accessibility to the site, as well as new benches and new natural stone pavers in place of the previous pavement, according to the University’s construction webpage.
Christopher Chew, the construction administrator who oversaw the quality assurance, quality control and safety of the project, said the candles previously housed in boxes in the sacristy will now be kept in a new shed built close to the Grotto.
While removing the old asphalt in preparation for the placement of natural stone pavers, however, the team discovered a plaque dating back to 1907 buried about a foot underground.
Chew said the plaque fits into a diamond-shaped space on the left side of the Grotto, if one is facing towards the Basilica.
Years ago, someone noticed the same diamond shape in the wall, Chew said.
“There was a lady who used to [run] a Grotto website, who had noticed it was missing and tried to figure out where it had fallen and disappeared,” Chew said. “She thought it was [from] the 1920s.”
He said the plaque most likely fell off the Grotto wall during the 1920s, and was buried at some point in the last hundred years or so.
Chew said he isn’t sure what will happen to the plaque at this time, as it is currently in someone else’s hands.
In addition to the new natural pavers and widened space between the benches and the Grotto itself, there is now a designated entrance and exit to the site.
“We pulled back the kneeling benches,” Chew said. “When you used to go into the grotto, you had to go out the same way. You no longer have to do that.”
Marsh and Chew said there were also updates made to the landscaping around the site to enhance the experience of visitors to the Grotto.
The surrounding sod is all new, and five trees and different ground shrubs and flowers were added to the site, along with river stones and rocks along the hill, Chew said.
“There’s a much more pleasant look to [the Grotto],” Chew said.
Both Marsh and Chew said the renovation project is meant to improve the experience of visiting the Grotto for everyone.
“I think for visitors who have never been there, it will be a much more pleasant experience and for those who have been there and come back, it will be an even more pleasant experience to have,” Chew said. “I think it’s a much calmer feeling when you go [into the Grotto] versus when we had the asphalt.”