Holy Family reunited once again at grotto

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Stone carver Kino Kopelov of Bedford removes the packing material from the statue of St. Joseph and baby Jesus after a crane placed it in the grotto on Bartley Street in Jasper on Monday.


JASPER — St. Joseph and baby Jesus returned to Bartley Street on Monday morning, reuniting the Holy Family at a stunning sanctuary of rock in Jasper.

After a long and complicated replication process, an incredibly detailed limestone statue of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus now stands inside a 7,000 pound geode archway at the Mother of God grotto. It rests just a stone’s throw away from a marble figure of St. Mary.

That new statue is an exact replica of a worn plaster sculpture that was part of the St. Joseph grotto for decades before that structure was removed from the grounds, prior to the construction of the now-standing Memorial Health Family Medicine clinic.

Members of a local nonprofit known as the Friends of the Grotto commissioned the carving and installation of the limestone creation in the archway with about $19,000 in donations and grant funding.

“As far as the Friends of the Grotto, our intention, I think, is No. 1 to preserve,” said Tim Bell, who is the group’s president. “And then No. 2, we wanted to, obviously, bring the Holy Family back together.”

Kino Kopelov of Bedford’s Kopelov Cut Stone sliced the ornate and intricate statue out of a block of limestone shaped like a parallelogram. With the old sculpture in his studio, he peeled away its paint and carefully copied details of the plaster with only a pointing machine — a needle that can be fixed in one position to tell a sculptor where to point it on one statue so that it can be transferred to the replica — and hammers and chisels.

He began the meticulous endeavor in October and wrapped up work about two weeks ago.

“The original sculptor sculpted a very beautiful statue,” Kopelov said. “The level of detail was perfect for carving into stone. And the skill of the sculptor was really evident from working from it for so long. To see all the way things flowed. So that was very enjoyable — to work on a nice model.”

Father Philip Ottavi built the original grotto in 1954 in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Ottavi wanted to build the shrine to imitate the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France, where in the 1850s, a vision of the Holy Mother appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl who would become St. Bernadette Soubirous.

A devastating earthquake struck Ottavi’s village in central Italy when he was a young boy, and the tremors caused the Ottavis’ home to collapse, killing the boy’s family. Ottavi was trapped beneath the rubble for hours before being freed by rescue workers, and for years, he harbored antipathy toward stones.

The story goes that Ottavi realized he needed to overcome his fear and hatred of stones because they, like everything, are God’s creation. And so building the grotto served as a way for him to overcome his fears.

All these years later, it remains a beautiful place of peace, prayer and reflection. Rosaries are held at the site on the 13th of every month, and a prayer group also meets regularly inside the courtyard, which is surrounded by thousands of round rocks with crystals inside them.

And for the first time in a while, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are all there to watch over those who take the time to admire the grotto’s charm.

Friends of the Grotto board members include Dee Ann and Tim Bell, Andrea and Nathan Bradford, Judy Welp and Mark Fierst.

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