365 Things to Do in Memphis #151: See the Crystal Shrine Grotto
Fun fact: Memphis is home to the largest (and probably only) man-made crystal cave in the world. It’s called the Crystal Shrine Grotto, and it’s located in the middle of an otherwise nondescript East Memphis cemetery.
The grotto is surrounded by an impressive meditation garden complete with a knotty wooden bridge, a pond, a fountain of youth, a wishing well and animal decoys (designed to scare away a destructive and sizeable goose population). There’s also Abraham’s Oak, a hollow fake tree that’s big enough to walk through. The whole thing has a sort of “Lord of the Rings” / secret outdoor temple feel to it.
The grounds were designed by the same man who built the grotto, a Mexican-artist named Dionicio Rodriguez. No one knows where Rodriguez got his incredible skill, or what his artistic process was (he was so secretive about his work that he would break the jars that he held his staining colors when he finished with them), but he was comissioned by the cemetery owner E.C. Hinds to design “a place of beauty and peace”.
Or, as the cemetery’s website puts it:
“One day in February 1935, vision shook the hands with genius. That is, the tall and distinguished Hinds met the short, proud Mexican Artist Senor Dionicio Rodriguez. Over the next eight years their unlikely partnership as patron and artist would produce a treasure trove of folk art in Memphis that to this day attracts visitors from all around the world.”
Walking into the grotto is very much like walking into an actual cave in that it’s dark and there are stalagtites and stalagmites. Only, unlike a real cave, there’s soft music playing and every available surface is absolutely covered in crystals.
The crystals form frames for dioramas that depict Christ’s journey on Earth. All of the highlights are there (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 daily when the cemetery is open, and admission is always free. It’s absolutely fine to take photos both outside and inside the grotto, but please be respectful.
5668 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38119-0885
This post was originally published in 2012.