"The desert bears only a scathing sun, and nothing more."
"What about mirages?"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Priest's Grotto - Mundare, AB.

Something about that small town--that grotto that we walked through, I keep thinking back to it. My memory is an old sepia photograph that I squint at. I keep trying o pick out the details, but time proves as persistent as it always is, and the jagged edges of hewn stone and wild hedges fade even as I recall them:

The place is old: you can feel it in the grass and see it in the stone, but it feels ageless too. It's like it will remain for a thousand more years, even when there are no more priests left to tend it. It is such a strange juxtaposition of stone and cement, a hard precise human hand and the wild ravages of nature. It is almost a paradox. It is almost perfect harmony.

The front of the grotto is a lush grass field lined with ancient trees. They grow beards of moss and whisper old secrets when the wind kisses them and command a respect that is unmatched by any sprig you will see in the city. Their branches reach over the field for each other, shield us from the sun with a canopy of new budding leaves. There is a cement walkway that leads up to the front of a massive stone structure in the centre of the grotto. It guides us onto a stone pavilion that is old and cracked and has seen the pounding of hundreds of feet. The centre is a sheltered area for prayers or ceremony, and on both sides are wide stone basins that once held fountains. They are deep and empty now, save for rusty bronze piping.

Next to each basin is a set of crooked stairs and a statue that offers us a story. One is the virgin Mary. The other is indiscernible. The fountain piping is bent crudely to follow the stairs. They creep past the statues and up to a cement reservoir at the peak of the structure. When you climb past the statues you find paths that wind around and lead you up to the top. You can run your hand along stone walls that line the path up. They are cobbled piles of rock and poured concrete. Everything is overgrown-- covered in moss and weeds and forget me nots  and other wild flowers. The priests have begun to groom the hedges and lilac bushes that line the pathways opposite to the wall. Though they still carry the posture of something that never stops resisting. They continue to grow and always the threat of them conquering the path lingers.

When you reach the top there stands at its very peak a rusting metal cross at least 12 feet high. It is covered head to toe in creeping vines dried and cracking from last year's winter. Tiny buds have begun to appear as the vine prepares for another summer of creeping.

I remember standing at the top of that place and being struck with the dedication of the faithful, and all that is needed to create and nourish a place like this. It has a sense of calm and serenity and age, but also the unnerving edge of the human hand and mind.


  1. Awesome is an overused word, but suits this description.

  2. Fantastic description. I like the intersection between the dark and the spiritual, corrosion and beauty, and fear and peace. The "rusting metal cross"...that's a great image.


"Write with our backs to the wind and our faces to the hard, bleaching sun."