Lourdes Grotto

Why There is a Replica of France’s Lourdes Grotto in Ohio

After visiting Europe in 1932, Bishop Karl Alter spearheaded the construction of a replica of the site where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before a young girl in the 1850s. 

Surrounded by roses, peonies and other bright blooms, a replica of the historic Lourdes Grotto stands in a quiet spot in the tiny northwest Ohio town of Genoa. Although it is a slightly smaller version of the famous grotto in Lourdes, France, where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared before a young girl in the 1850s, the structure is uniquely Ohio. It is built of tufa rock (a type of stone formed when minerals leach from bodies of water) quarried from nearby Castalia, Ohio.

Bishop Karl Alter of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo decided to build a replica of the landmark in Ohio, after visiting the French grotto in 1932. The Ohio version opened behind Genoa’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church a year later and has remained a place for visitors to pray or just admire the artistry of the structure and its impressive landscaping.

“A lot of people are looking for a place to take a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday work,” says Geraldine Haar, chairman of the church’s grotto committee. “It’s very serene. People find it very restful and relaxing. They sit and mediate for a while, and they feel refreshed.”

A statue of Mary stands atop the grotto, and a large hollow in the structure provides a quiet place to light candles. Behind the grotto stands a tufa-rock archway adorned with bells that leads to a pathway through the Stations of the Cross, which depict scenes from the last day of Jesus’ life.

“A lot of people have gone to the original grotto in France,” Haar says. “When they come back, they want to make a special remembrance tour.” 204 Main St., Genoa 43430, 419/855-8501, sb-oh.org