A 55-foot-tall, 22-foot-wide crucifix—at one point the largest in the world—is carved from a single redwood tree. It stands as the centerpiece of this Catholic shrine in the woods of northern Michigan. The bronze figure of Jesus Christ that is attached to the cross weighs about 14,000 pounds and is the work of famous sculptor Marshall Fredericks.
The site was declared a national shrine by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in September 2006. While the massive cross is the main attraction, the site includes several outdoor and indoor churches, numerous smaller shrines, and a doll museum. More than 300,000 visitors stop at the shrine every year.
Because parishioners living in the area had to travel long distances to get to church, Bishop Francis J. Haas of the Diocese of Grand Rapids started searching in April 1946 for land upon which he could establish a new church. While deliberations carried on for a couple of years, the parish met in a town hall. Finally, in May 1948, the parish was given the land for $1.00 and a box of candy for the secretary.
Alden B. Dow, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, build the first church on the site. Designed as a long-house style church, it was meant to look out over and highlight the wooded area that surrounded it. Today, this church houses the gift shop, nun doll museum, and main office for the Cross in the Woods Shrine.
Meant partly as a means to attract new visitors to the area, the idea to build the world’s largest crucifix was hatched in 1952. The crucifix weighs so much that the hill it stands on is actually man-made and built of steel and concrete that was then covered by dirt. The process of creating the Christ figure for the cross took four years and it one of the largest castings to ever be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. The figure is attached to the cross by 13 bolts that are 30 inches long and two inches wide.
The nun doll museum, housed in the original church, is the largest collection of dolls dressed up in traditional religious attire in the United States. The collection began as a personal one in 1945, but the dolls were donated to the church twenty years later. Today, there are more than 500 dolls in the collection and, per the original owners’ wishes, admission to see them will never be charged.
Know Before You Go
Take I-75 to exit 310 (Indian River). Follow Hwy 68 west, and make a right where it separates from Hwy 27. The Shrine will be on your left.