Roadside Chapels

Belgian immigrants brought many religious traditions to North East Wisconsin. Signs of faith are still visible among their descendants, such as this shrine in front of a home…

Just off DK in Brussels, on Z

Just off DK in Brussels, on Z

…and this beautiful grotto in the St. Francis and St. Mary parish cemetery north of Brussels, WI.

#27 - St. Francis & St. Mary Parish cemetery

St. Francis & St. Mary Parish cemetery

St. Francis & St. Mary Parish cemetery

Most of those who arrived in the 19th-century were devout Catholics. Some of the newcomers built a small chapel on their property, continuing an Old Country tradition. The chapels might be dedicated to a particular saint, or commemorate a loved one. They might be constructed as an expression of gratitude for a blessing received.

#23 Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel

Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel

The earliest chapels are gone. Some burned in the Great Fire, and some were demolished as roads were widened.  But there are still some chapels sprinkled through the settlement areas in Brown, Kewaunee, and Door Counties. You may have driven by one without realizing it.

#26 Little chapel of the Sacred Heart.

Little chapel of the Sacred Heart.

These are little chapels,” explained Mary Baudhuin, who for sixty years has tended the little shrine of the Immaculate Conception, across from her farm home…  “People build these prayer-houses because of a promise to God if freed of some hardship or disease.  …If we were nearer to the churches we would not need our little shrines.  But in our hours of worry and sorrow we have a place close at home to speak our heart and lay our burden.”  (Fred L. Holmes, Old World Wisconsin:  Around Europe in the Badger State, 1944).

Some chapels were built even after easily-accessible churches were established. They continue to provide comfort and a quiet place to pray for the property owners…and sometimes passers-by as well.

#24 St. Roch Chapel

St. Roch Chapel

The chapels I’ve visited all contain a small altar,

Belgian Chapel

#26 Little Chapel of the Sacred Heart

and religious statues, artwork, and candles arranged with great care.

Belgian Chapel

Belgian Chapel

Belgian Chapel

Traditionally these wayside chapels were always ready to welcome any passerby in search of a moment of quiet contemplation or prayer. Some property owners today continue that tradition.

This chapel originally owned by Joe and Odile Le Mieux was built in 1925. Odile wanted a peaceful place to reflect and pray. Joe, a stonemason, worked with Odile’s brother to build the chapel from local limestone.

Le Mieux Chapel, Cofrin Arboretum, UW-Green Bay

The chapel was used for many years by the family and neighbors.  The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay acquired the property in 1984 as part of the Cofrin Arboretum. A partnership between the UW and local descendants and friends keeps the chapel open to all.

The chapel was dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua.

These chapels are sacred spaces…and a quiet reflection of the devout faith that the Belgian immigrants brought with them.

By Le Mieux Chapel, Cofrin Arboretum, UW-Green Bay

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Chapels played a role in The Lacemaker’s Secret.   Visit my website to learn more.

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7 Responses to “Roadside Chapels”

  1. Rita Lurvey Says:

    these pictures are lovely . Bill and i should take a ride this spring and see how many we can find.

  2. Liz V. Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, with examples of some lovely places in which thanks have been expressed for years.

  3. Donamae Clausen Kutska Says:

    These chapels are awesome. My grandma used to go to the shrine of our lady of good help.

  4. Lisa Alfsen Says:

    OMG I love roadside chapels! I will have to read the book! Lisa A

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Lisa, the ones I visited were lovely. I felt a little strange going in, but the Belgian Heritage Center has brochures that provide information, including which ones are kept locked and which ones are open to all.

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