We recently spent a day going back to my family roots. One side of the family came from Luxembourg in the 1890s. They settled in the small town of Belleview, Iowa, after a trying journey during which my devoutly Catholic great great grandfather made a deal with God. If they all arrived in the New World in one piece, he would build a chapel and worship Him there.
God kept up His end of the deal, and my great great grandfather, a stone mason, kept his promise. He built a chapel on the corner of a piece of land belonging to a friend. That tiny chapel is now a National Historic Landmark and maintained by a foundation set up by the family.
The chapel is deep in the hilly country that boarders the great Mississippi River. It is two miles from the highway on a narrow wildflower-lined gravel road deep in a lovely valley full of trees and crop fields. The chapel is open on one side and about the size of a small hen coop. It is built of local stone. Inside above the altar is a crucifix. The figure of Christ on the cross was also made by my ancestor. There is a small cabinet on one wall that holds a spiral notebook that serves as a guest book. On years when the family has a reunion, there is a Mass said at the chapel.
My great great grandfather also helped build the nearby St. Nicholas church which is no longer in use but still stands and has a graveyard that is being used and nicely maintained.
After visiting the chapel, we went into town to the Catholic cemetery and found the graves of both my great great grandparent’s (my great great grandmother died in a buggy accident some years before him). They are marked with a monument he made himself out of local stone. This marker is the only one in the cemetery made of sandstone. It has held up to Midwestern weather better than the marble grave markers that surround it. The sexton offered to clean it up, but I said I thought the lichen on it were lovely and he should leave well enough alone. Begonia