Kane County History: Grotto on Government Center Campus Is One of Geneva's Hidden Gems

Kane County History: Grotto on Government Center Campus Is One of Geneva’s Hidden Gems

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post is contributed by Terry Emma, director of the Geneva History Museum. All photos are courtesy of the Geneva History Museum.

Hidden on the grounds of the Kane County Government Center, the Sacred Heart Grotto is a serene surprise for anyone who happens to come across it while wandering through the woods.

Over the years, the grotto has become covered in dirt, grime and splashed with paint by vandals. The grotto sits within the boundary of the Kane County Forest Preserve, and the cost of restoration and repair has been discussed for many years.

In August 2020, the Knights of Columbus Council 2191 and more than 600 community members began the task of restoring the grotto to its former beauty. The Knights are members of both St. Peter Catholic Church in Geneva and Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia. 

Sacred Heart Seminary

Before it became the Kane County Government Center at 719 S. Batavia Ave., in Geneva, the property was owned by the Sacred Heart Seminary. Priests were trained here from the mid-1920s up until 1971, when the grounds were sold to Kane County.

Built in the 1930s, it is believed that a German priest built the grotto as a shrine, using rocks and colored glass from the local riverbeds.

A detailed mosaic of rocks spread over three arches depicts heaven and earth, a crucifix crossed by two swords (possibly Jesuits as soldiers of Christ), a Monstrance (chalice that holds the body of Christ), and a lighthouse. The former is bordered with the phrase, “Ignem veni mittere,” which translates to “I have come to bring fire.”

The lighthouse, or flame of divine love, is underlined by, “ego sum lux mundi,” or “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). This sentiment may be further reflected by the central arch’s ceiling depicting a blue sky pierced by rays of light.

The grotto’s upper corners are decorated with the Greek letters alpha and omega, referring to the New Testament in which Jesus uses the characters to describe himself as in embodying both beginning and end. Additionally, a nod to the first three letters of Jesus in Greek, the altar is inscribed with the letters “IHS.”

Join the Geneva History Museum in person or virtually at noon Tuesday, Sept. 14, for “Hidden Gem in Geneva – The Sacred Heart Grotto,” presented by Bob McQuillan from The Knights of Columbus.

Visit GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or call 630-232-4951 to register for the in-person program of $5 per person, free for museum members, or to receive the free virtual program link.  

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