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Memphis, Tennessee

The Crystal Shrine Grotto

This head-spinningly bizarre Depression-era art cave is wall-to-wall quartz and Jesus. 

Crafted in the 1930s the oddly organic concrete cavern known as the Crystal Shrine Grotto is a psychedelic mix of strange stone forms, expert craftsmanship, and religious imagery that is meant to create a peaceful place of reflection, but seems more like a neolithic Christian amusement park.

While no one is buried in or under the grotto, it sits in the middle of Memphis’ Memorial Park Cemetery just across the street from the grave of Isaac Hayes. The rocky grotto and the cave it leads to (technically known as The Cave of Machpelah) were the work of artist Dionicio Rodríguez who had been tasked with beautifying the cemetery grounds. To this end he dug a cave almost 60 feet into a hill on the grounds and decorated the interior with faux crags made of cement and quartz crystals which are exposed to sunlight on the exterior end to create a glowing effect. All of the stonework surrounds a series of biblical tableaus which were later added on to with little two-dimensional figures that just increased the strange feel. To complete the experience, haunting harp music is also piped in. Surrounding the cave is the grotto area which features a pool of water dyed a blinding blue as well as gnarled concrete trees that visitors can walk through and under and which all have a surprisingly lifelike look.

As the story goes, Rodríguez was so paranoid that another artist would steal the concrete decorating techniques he used on the fake wood portions of the grotto that he destroyed the materials after the piece was complete. The methods may no longer be with us, but the sturdy concrete grotto doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, ensuring that it will blow the minds of the mourning for years to come.