A Religious Experience at the Crystal Shrine Grotto

A Religious Experience at the Crystal Shrine Grotto

Deep inside the Memorial Park cemetery in East Memphis, there's a cave.

Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis, Tenn.

The cave is called the Crystal Shrine Grotto. Walking into the grotto is a little intense. You enter through a little door on the front of the rock. The first thing you notice after your eyes adjust to the darkness is all of the crystals. They're everywhere - on the ceiling, rising from the floor, on the walls. The crystals form frames for large dioramas depicting the life of Christ.

Inside the Crystal Shrine Grotto, Memphis, Tenn.

The Crystal Shrine Grotto was designed and built by sculptor Dionicio Rodriguez. It was completed in 1938. The collection of scenes from Jesus' life include all of the usual favorites (the Nativity, the Last Supper, the Resurrection), as well as some more obscure moments carved in rock quartz crystal, semi-precious stones and wood.

The Grotto is open when the cemetery is, and the area around it is pretty - there are benches and a lake, and it's totally fine to take photos. Admission is free.

Go There:

Crystal Shrine Grotto

Memorial Park Cemetery

5668 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38119-0885
(901) 767-8930

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Lee Williams
Hello! I'm the guy from the Sivad film shorts festival that really enjoys your blog :) I've been going to the grotto since i was a little kid in the '70s. I've got family buried close by and I've always enjoyed visiting because of the mysteriuos caves! Did you know that Don Briscoe of television's "Dark Shadows" is buried in Memorial Park, very close to the grotto?
April 2, 2010 8:50am
andrew diggs
Have you done research on Dionicio Rodriguez? Quite an amazing history. David Day, the artist who fixed some of the pieces that had fallen into disrepair, gave me some info. He would be a good place to start if you're interested in Dionicio history. Besides the little you can find online, Memorial Park has some records.. He has other pieces, in Arkansas and L.A. He supposedly lived in the Pontotoc Hotel downtown (another beautiful memphis landmark with interesting history worth looking into.), when he was commissioned to do the piece in Memorial Park. Somehow he lugged all those crystals from Arkansas down Old Poplar Avenue, when Poplar probably still had Poplar trees lining it. I think Dionicio died of lung cancer. He would mix his chemicals in the back of an enclosed (car) wagon.. so that no one could steal his process or chemicals. A method where the concrete would mimic the color, and look like bark. I'm sure he used broom and created frameworks to build into objects. Concrete companies, even today, would give millions of dollars for some of his secrets.. But his paranoia may have led to what killed him. I also have found the Grotto to be one of my "secret" places of solace. (Along with the aviary house at the zoo where you can sit and watch the exotic birds in relative quiet. another one, the Goldsmith's gardens use to have a waterfall in the greenhouse behind the main building, which has been removed for quite a while now.) Most of my facts about Dionicio should be fact checked.. I feel a kindred spirit with him, and he certainly has lodged a creative spark in my psyche. And a sense of romance in the art of organic landscaping. Though, I am a little sad about it's upkeep when I visit. In a similar topic. I hope the Pontotoc does not end up like the Ambassador Hotel (the one used in "Mystery Train". Which was eventually razed).. I realize that some historical register properties can't be helped because the cost is prohibitive to fix, or rebuild. And I feel Memphis does not have a good track record concerning helping to maintain and fix, sites of historical significance. no matter how arcane. Thinking about the way The Zippin Pippin was handled still breaks my rollercoaster heart. but, I still love Memphis. (even though I live on Cape Cod now.)
April 5, 2010 11:14am
Richard H Day
As info, David Day is also the artist that created the stone/wood carving exhibits. Have any of you noticed the "secret" in the scene of The Last Supper???? Examine it closely.
June 3, 2010 7:10pm
Leigh Davis
Re: andrew diggs I own and have lived in the Hotel Pontotoc since leaving my midtown home in 1981. Yes, Dionicio Rodriguez lived here...which room?... I don't know. The history is filled with truths, myths and legends. The Pontotoc is the oldest "freestanding" turn of the century hotel left intact in downtown Memphis, cira 1906. I can tell you the building is kind and nurturing. The Arcade Hotel, demolished not long after the filming of Mystery Train, was really a beautiful property...tall ceilings with window transoms over each guestroom door. The beautiful, historic Eureka Hotel was torn down a few years ago. Both sites remain as vacant lots. Jim Jarmusch visited us at The Pontotoc while filming "Mystery Train". I remember him very polite and soft spoken. Liked him. I too hope all ends up well and The Pontotoc and west garden do not become a parking lot or just another high-rise.... Already we have lost a 40' tree and a 12' tea rose bush on the east property line from a bulldozer via Pearls bar/restaurant...maybe an additional 2 parking spaces were gained..an asphalt parking lot...really ugly. One would think the city would be more interested in helping save more of our history. Memphis Heritage seems present only at the "wrecking ball". It is a pricey project ...saving an old building... but without them where would we be? Thank you Andrew for sharing your information and your comments about "The Pontotoc". Happy Halloween. leigh
October 30, 2010 9:46pm
15 Ways to See…
[...] Crystal Shrine Grotto – Located in a fake cave in a cemetery in East Memphis, the Crystal Shrine Grotto is a series of dioramas depicting the life of Christ. It was built by sculptor Dionicio Rodriguez, and it’s one of the most unique pieces of public art in town. [...]
November 4, 2010 10:15am
More records on Dionicio Rodriguez can be found in The Katherine Hinds Smythe Collection at Memphis Public Library (4th floor): http://bit.ly/co9nbs. She was the granddaughter of the founder of Memorial Gardens, E. Clovis Hinds. The collection contains information about Rodriguez, including letters to and from Rodriguez and Hinds (if I remember correctly). In researching the background for this collection, I found that his great nephew, Carlos Cortéz, still uses the same techniques in his work: http://www.studiocortes.com/.
November 4, 2010 11:20am
" Have any of you noticed the “secret” in the scene of The Last Supper???? Examine it closely."   Would that "secret" be the bag of money in Judas' left hand ?
December 28, 2011 11:35am
I Love Memphis…
[...] If you plan to celebrate Easter, but are still looking for a place to do so, Memphis Connect has a full list of Easter religious services. Many area restaurants are also offering special brunch menus for the holiday. I’d recommend making reservations early, though. If neither of those is your thing, you could always go check out the Crystal Shrine Grotto. [...]
April 2, 2010 10:25am