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Father Phillip Ottavi, Geode Grotto

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Visiting Information

Visitation is free and open to the public. 

About the Artist/Site

Father Ottavi was born in Messina, Italy and was orphaned by the 1908 earthquake that killed some 100,000 of his countrymen. Following his emigration to the US, he became involved with the Order of the Sons of Divine Providence, a religious order dedicated to helping the unfortunate and underprivileged. Inspired by the religious grottoes with which he had been familiar in Europe, when two handball courts were removed at the Indiana property, leaving space for another use of these grounds, he – along with a crew of volunteers and residents – started work on the creation of two shrines on the grounds of the Providence Home for Retarded Men – later known as the Cathedral Health Care Center.

Ottavi made use of local materials, particularly the local geode stones that were abundant in Heltonville, some sixty miles northeast of Jasper (capital of the so-called Geode Belt). These stones, with their crystal centers, were a popular material for building and landscaping from the nineteenth century on, and so it was not seen as unusual for Ottavi to set these rocks into a concrete mortar. He interspersed them with found objects, marble, seashells, religious artifacts, and limestone. Life-size religious sculptures were imported directly from Carrara, Italy’s famous marble quarries to grace the major grotto components. Construction of the site took place between 1960 and 1970.

Although it has been said that the direct inspiration for the Grotto was the famous pilgrimage site and grotto in Lourdes, France, work in Jasper was done in a more improvisational way, with no blueprints or building plans. Ultimately, two main shrines – the Mother of God Shrine on the south, and the St. Joseph Shrine on the north – were constructed, along with fountains, planters, birdbaths, lampposts, benches, and gardens. It fills four city blocks. The Mother of God Shrine, more cave-like, also features a ceiling ornamented with faux stalactites.

In late 2016, Memorial Hospital, which had purchased the property from the Cathedral Health Care Center, deeded the portions of the grounds that included the Geode Grotto to a local nonprofit organization, the Friends of Grotto, Inc., whose mission is to maintain and preserve the site. This was done because the Hospital wanted to expand, and they designated the site of the St. Joseph’s Grotto as the future home of a family medicine residency facility. Incorporation of grotto components were not contemplated as being part of the hospital’s capital plan. Consequently, all components of the St. Joseph’s Grotto are being temporarily moved to storage as longer-range preservation plans are considered. Those structures that were too large to be moved in one piece are being carefully dismantled. The Hospital has not pledged to preserve all, but, rather, “many” of the original grotto structures, although the hope is that the St. Joseph’s Grotto will be able to be relocated in its entirety.

The intention is that once the works are removed and the immediate expenses of preservation are addressed, the Friends group will work to maintain and preserve the site over the long term. The public is invited to visit the grotto as a place for prayer, healing, and reflection, and to contribute to its upkeep. This project is primarily being supported through grants from the Dubois County Community Foundation and Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center. Visitation is free and open to the public.

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

520 West 9th Street
Jasper, Indiana, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 38.395004 / -86.937227

Visiting Information

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