Cave of Candles
Notre Dame's Grotto / by Dorothy V. Corson

First Lourdes Grotto at St. Mary's Academy

In 1877 an interesting entry(29) appeared in the Scholastic concerning a Grotto at St. Mary's:

There are already three representations of the Grotto in the United States, one at the House of the Sisters of Notre Dame in St. Aloysius parish in Washington, D.C., one at the House of the Sisters of Charity at Yonkers, and one at St. Mary's at Notre Dame, Indiana.(30)

In August of 1878 another description of this early St. Mary's Grotto appeared:

The facsimile of the Grotto of Lourdes at St. Mary's Academy comes nearer the original than any that she has seen in either this country or in Europe. Miss Jamison resided for some time at Lourdes, during a tour made by her to Europe, and of course her opinion carries much weight.(31)

An entry in the St. Mary's Academy section of the Scholastic in December of 1874, indicated a Grotto at St. Mary's had been in existence for several years:

The lovely Madeira vine at the Grotto of Lourdes has been shorn of its fragrant blossoms.(32)

Historians and archivists on both campuses knew of no evidence of any Grottoes on either campus before the present one at Notre Dame in 1896, yet these two items suggested there very definitely had been one at St. Mary's.

Two pages at the end of an 1880 Class Day Book(33) under the heading of St. Mary's Academy provided a clue to its location. A tour of the campus described the grounds and buildings, going from The Building (the old academy now known as Bertrand Hall) to the Conservatory of Music and St. Luke's Studio (art), which was attached to it.

After leaving the State road, leading from South Bend to Niles, for more than a quarter of a mile, maples, sycamore and poplars shade, and hedges of Osage orange and lilacs [many now gone] border the broad carriage drives and pleasant walks that lead to St. Mary's Academy . . . .

Passing the GROTTO OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES which separates the Academy from the Convent , we will mention attractive features belonging to the grounds, among which . . . ."

Elderly nuns had no remembrance of a Grotto on the grounds passed on by Sisters now deceased. There was also no archival evidence to support the existence of an 1870s Grotto at St. Mary's.

Statues in Lourdes Hall

Then one Sister happened to mention there was an Our Lady of Lourdes statue in Lourdes Hall at Saint Mary's. She suggested that the Grotto might have been on the building site of Lourdes Hall. "If that were so, and it had been dismantled," she said, "perhaps the statue of Our Lady was then placed in the new building and that is why it was called Lourdes Hall."

On the third floor of Lourdes Hall, there was a six by ten foot hallway alcove facing the grand staircase. A life-size statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stood on a simple pedestal. Behind it, was a narrow stained glass window with bits of purple color predominating. Facing the Our Lady statue was a smaller statue no one had mentioned, a life-size kneeling statue of Bernadette! The alcove was bare except for the statues. The graceful polished grand staircase, worn smooth by the many footsteps of students and nuns in bygone days, was centered on a long hall. One stairway led to the north hallway and the other to the south hallway.

Had the statues always been there or had they come from somewhere else? Several buildings were now all attached in a U formation. The center of the U has been called the "teardrop" because that was where the Sisters said goodbye to one another before leaving on missions to far away countries. Could the Grotto have been between the buildings before they were attached?

The new addition, now called Lourdes Hall, was built at St. Mary's in 1871-72. It was originally called "the academy wing."(34) Its design was borrowed from a sketch of the hospital where Mother Augusta tended the wounded during the Civil War. She was impressed with the building and asked a wounded soldier to do a sketch of it for her. The St. Mary's Sisters were well represented during the thick of the war, as were the priests at Notre Dame who were chaplains.

The Scholastic index showed no entries about this early St. Mary's Grotto. Paging through them backwards, from the date of the Class Day Book entry in 1880, was made a bit simpler by the fact that any writings about St. Mary's were at the end of each issue.

This puzzling unindexed entry appeared in the September 1879 issue:

The Grotto of Lourdes has been replaced by a simple curtained alcove [the one at the head of the Lourdes Hall grand staircase]. The beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stands on an ornamented pillar, and the window back of the statue is shaded by purple hangings. The statue of Bernadette has been painted anew.

In his late instruction, Very Rev. Father General said that Bernadette Soubirous was chosen to be the recipient of the great favors she enjoyed, because of her singular innocence. He said that the majesty of innocence had power to make strong men tremble. He mentioned a new French publication respecting this little peasant girl, and promised its early translation into English.

Bernadette was chosen because Mary is the Mother of him who came to be a sign of contradiction to expose the empty pretensions of pride and place to reverse the false values of the world, to manifest the mysteries of His Kingdom to little ones and hide them from the wise and the great.(35)

The French publication about Bernadette mentioned by Father Sorin is the aforementioned book, Our Lady of Lourdes , written by her official historian, Henri Lasserre.

On May 28, 1870, another review of Lasserre's book was reprinted in the Ave Maria entitled, "Pilgrimages in the Pyrenees and Landes." It was written by the same reviewer, Denys Shyne Lawlor:

It is impossible to read this account of the gifted author's sojournings in the "Land of visions" -- without feeling the heart throb with increased devotion and love for our ever Blessed Mother. . . . We tread with him the winding banks of the Gave . . . or kneel in the Grotto of Lourdes, where, in our own day, wonderful visions have been granted to the simple and pure-hearted little shepherdess, Bernadette. . . .

I do not know in the whole range of modern literature any work that exceeds Notre Dame de Lourdes in eloquence of description, accuracy of detail, accumulation of proof, force of reasoning and earnestness of conviction. No honest-minded person can peruse it carefully and refuse to believe that the Blessed Virgin did personally appear at the grotto of Massabielle to Bernadette Soubirous, and that she confirmed her apparition by numerous miracles.(36)

Father Sorin must have been involved with the Grotto of Lourdes at St. Mary's and knew it intimately in the years before it was replaced.

Several maps of the Notre Dame Campus(37) included drawings of the St. Mary's campus as well. One, an 1878 St. Joseph County map, was an overall view of the land surrounding the campuses, including the Notre Dame lakes and the St. Joseph River behind the St. Mary's Academy. The others were Sanborn maps(38) for 1885 and 1891, detailed drawings of buildings on both campuses used for fire insurance purposes.

The Sanborn maps showed the 265 foot long building called Lourdes Hall was divided by a grand staircase. There were student classrooms on one side of the staircase, and the Sisters refectory, chapel, and convent, on the other. The significance of the wording in the Class Day Book -- "Passing the Grotto of Lourdes which separates the academy from the convent" -- suddenly became clear. The grotto, thought to be outside, had been inside all along -- in Lourdes Hall! But how big was it, and what had it looked like to warrant it being labeled, "nearer the original than any seen in either this country or in Europe?"

Letter Describes St. Mary's Grotto

Another unindexed article, "Some of St. Mary's Shrines," in the October 1877 issue of the Scholastic supplied the answer in the form of a letter sent to them for publication. It included a detailed description of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, located indoors in Lourdes Hall, at St. Mary's Academy -- the first grotto for pilgrimages on either campus.

As we left the Chapel the Sister said: "We have another shrine, the perfect facsimile of Lourdes. It stands between the Convent and the Academy." "I shall be delighted to see it; for last week, at Sadlier's, in New York, I purchased a book, written by Henri Lasserre, giving a full description of the Grotto and its history." "Indeed!" replied the Sister; "our Mother Superior met with the author four years ago [1873] when at Lourdes." "Did she witness any of the wonderful miracles which take place so frequently?" "I heard her speak of two to which she was an eye-witness. . . ."

"Our Mother Superior had ample opportunity to examine every part of the world-famed shrine, and ours is correct in every detail, not a crevice even missing. She had the good fortune also to meet at Paris the artist who had made the statue of the Blessed Virgin, which is according to the description given by Bernadette, and now marks the exact spot where the apparitions took place. She immediately ordered one exactly the same size as the one at Lourdes, and a lifelike statue of Bernadette, to place in the facsimile she intended to erect, which is just one half the size of the original."

We had now ascended to a long corridor, which runs the whole length of the edifice, 250 feet in length, and opposite to the grand staircase, in a large alcove fronting, is the Grotto, to all appearance like a rock. From the descriptions I had read, I should have recognized it even if I had not been told what to expect. The entrance is in the shape of a crooked arch; the rock sloping back from the entrance becomes narrower on either side; above, to the right is a niche-like orifice; a wild rose springing from a fissure in the rock at its base; tangled brambles extending their roots into the crevices of the rocks. In the niche is the statue spoken of above. The long white robe falling in folds suffer her feet to appear, reposing on the rock; on each of them is a rose of bright golden hue; a girdle of blue, knotted in front, reaching almost to the feet, and a veil descending as far as the hem of her garment. A chaplet of white beads hang from her hands. Above her head is inscribed in golden letters: 'I am the Immaculate Conception.' (This was the answer given by the Apparition to Bernadette when she asked her name.) Kneeling at the base of the rock is a life-like statue of Bernadette in peasant costume; a dark worn dress, and white capulet which covers her head and falls behind; a kind of kerchief covers her shoulders, sabots on her feet. [This statue is now painted all white.] She looks towards the Virgin, her whole countenance expressive (as mentioned by Lasserre) "of the majesty of innocence." In one hand she holds her beads, in the other is usually placed a lighted candle, during novenas which are often asked by devout clients of our Lady, and a lamp is kept burning before the statue for special intentions. An altar is inside the arched Grotto, to represent the one at Lourdes. To the right of the altar, and nearer to the front, is a small receptacle to represent the fountain from which the miraculous water flows. A small iron railing is placed along the whole; on the outside is a stone ledge where all who pass kneel for an instant. I was so intent in examining this truthful and beautiful representation that I had not noticed the absence of one of the Sisters, until she came back and placed in my hand a small package, saying: "Mother Superior begs you to accept, with her compliments, a few vials containing some of the water which she obtained herself from the fountain at Lourdes. . . ." (39)

Mother Angela had definite plans for the statues she had shipped from Lourdes the year before. She placed them in an indoor replica of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto she built in Lourdes Hall in 1874.

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