by Lyle Lofgren
May 15, 1999
[Note: I later found out through internet magic that "C.A." was Charles Andera (1859-1929), who wasn't an iron worker at all. He designed the crosses and had someone else cast them. He sold his crosses to other Czech communities around the US.]

We followed The Dvorak Memorial Highway to Spillville, Iowa. Spillville is famous as the Czech community where Antonin Dvorak spent the summer of 1893. It's also the home of the Bily clock museum, exhibiting the handiwork of two bachelor farmer brothers who spent their winters carving elaborate clock housings. Some are full-fledged dioramas -- well worth stopping for when you visit Spillville. We also stopped at St. Wenceslaus Catholic church, which was built circa 1860. The graveyard is mostly iron crosses with filigreed openwork, sand cast by a local ironworker named “C.A.” Someone has sprayed aluminum paint all over the iron crosses, which makes them look modern and ancient at the same time. Most of the graves are from the turn of the 20th century. The church windows are exquisite, as is a modest-sized pipe organ. By the looks of the style, it may have been the same organ that Dvorak played, except it was boy-powered back then.

On the side of the church, built against the wall and protected by a shed, is a grotto constructed and dedicated to our Lady of Lourdes. I thought it strange to find a French sacred site on the side of a Czech church.

Our Lady of Lourdes is plastic, about 2-1/2 feet high, standing astride a gurgling stream flowing out of the rocks. To her left, a smaller plastic Mary is paying homage to the larger Mary -- evidently The Assumption of The Virgin involved a little presumption as well -- talk about self-adoration! The smaller Mary is holding a Rosary, with a plastic cross and cheap plastic beads. There is a tangle of similar Rosaries near her, with a sign saying they had all been blessed, and you should take one if you need one, but there is a slot for donations. A loudspeaker broadcasting Gregorian chants keeps your thoughts devout. I'll give the Czechs credit: they're not wasteful. A supermarket infrared door-opener has been modified to turn on the water and the chants when you step into the doorway and turns them off again shortly after you leave.

[Note added Apr. 11, 2012: Paul Burke sent me a message to say that the "smaller Mary" mentioned above is undoubtedly really Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes. So my assumption was an incorrect one, and I probably won't go to heaven intact. Thanks for the correction, Paul.]