September 21, 2007

Grottos at Gardenology

While in Europe on vacation I became fascinated with grottos. They were carved into hillsides along the highway, sculpted into the sides of buildings, tucked into crevices, they were everywhere. Most of them honoring the Virgin Mary.

At Gardenology, we began putting our own miniature grottos together in containers. I traveled around the countryside stopping at my favorite antique stores and began gathering up oval shaped antique serving dishes and figurines of the Virgin Mary. After some consideration, I began picking up other figurines that represented the feminine - little girls, peasants, a shepherdess, etc.

It became a challenge to find the proper serving dish to match the figurine in color, proportion, elegance, and theme. It was more difficult than I anticipated as oval shaped containers that form the grotto are rare and hard to find. Figurines were a little easier, but I was seeking a good representation of the feminine so it took several weeks of searching to find good candidates for the project.

Marcy, our mosaic artist, agreed to mosaic a grotto using various trinkets I had been collecting in a jar. The resulting grotto is my favorite container.

The grottos at Gardenology symbolize the celebration of motherhood and the feminine. The importance of being a female role model to the children in our lives.

A Grotto (Italian grotta) is any type of natural or artificial cave that is associated with modern, historic or prehistoric use by humans. When it is not an artificial garden feature, a grotto is often a small cave near water and often flooded or liable to flood at high tide.

The word comes from Italian grotta, Vulgar Latin grupta, Latin crypta, (a crypt).

Some are more primitive, but nonetheless just as beautiful in their simplicity. This one contains crucifixes, a rosary, and petite statues of various Saints.

Other grottos serve as memorials to those lost.

This one looks elegant in the surrounding wooded area. The grotto contains a candle to be lit as a request for blessings, hope, prayer, or honor.

The creation of artificial grottoes was an introduction of Mannerist style to Italian, and then to French, gardens of the mid 16th century. Two famous grottoes in the Boboli Gardens of Palazzo Pitti and Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593. One of these grottoes originally housed the Prisoners of Michelangelo. Perhaps still earlier than the Boboli grotto was one in the gardens laid out at the Medici Villa Castello, near Florence in 1550.
Complex, often involving mosaics and elaborate stonework.

The mystery and perceived danger of these underground sites easily led to the formation of myths and gods. The upper Palaeolithic paintings at places like Lascaux are likely to have had mystical connections and Greek and Roman gods such as Hades (Pluto), follow the same tradition. Christianity has sought to make such places safe by developing shrines there. Though the cave-setting for the Nativity is a 2nd-century development based on apocrypha, the Marian grotto is a 19th century phenomenon. The 20th-century Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa is the largest religiously-inspired grotto in the world.

This grotto seems to be made of what limited items that were available at the time. The grotto surround is made out of an abandoned wheelbarrow. The primitive materials do not detract from the beauty of the grotto as a whole.

In Europe, you often see empty cans set at the base of the grotto for fresh flower offerings. Remember the elderly gentleman in the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun who walked down the lone path stopping to remove the dead blossom and place fresh ones in their place? It was a grotto.

Grottos seem to transcend relegions and are not strictly a Catholic tradition or necessarily a religious, but often a spiritual expression of grace. A place to relax, be at peace, reflect, to memoralize a loved one or to express gratitude for the many blessings of life.

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