HISTORY – Visit – Baptistry
The BAPTISTRY A UNIQUE SHRINE 
written by Father Richard Ober
As we turn to leave the Shrine of Our Lady, we deposit our little mite and light a candle, feeling infinitely better for our humble homage to God’s and our own Blessed Mother. As we continue to our right we pass the semi-circular confessional reserved for the deaf and stand before the iron wrought gates that open into the baptistry. Undoubtedly there are other shrine in the length and breadth of the land that recall the miraculous apparition of the Immaculate Mother at Lourdes, and indeed there are shrines that re-enact in artistic grouping of figures and scenes that prayerful setting in the historic Garden beyond Kedron Brook, but never have we seen a likeness of the shrine that now commands attention.
While there is a mirage here, it is one that gently glides into the substantial reality that woos but does not win the wanderer of the desert. In from the wall facing our approach toward the south, flow the placid waters of the Jordan. It might be an illusion, but we hear the falling of the waters, nay, we see the play of light o’er a rock-bound coast where beneath a bridge that spans a crude rock-hewn basin, gold fish disport themselves. Here is movement and here is life; a charming detail that adapts itself beautifully to the scene that surrounds us as we stand within the grotto. This shrine of a baptistry occupies about 18 feet square. After little less than a year, in the early spring of 1923, Reverend Father Wuest, C.S.Sp., completed a work that is peculiarly his in design and construction. Every stone and shell, and there are many, small and large, found its place through the day by day application of an untiring Pastor. As we descend the several steps into the baptistry, the scene tells its story in one sweep of the eye. It is a reproduction of the baptism of Christ on the banks of the Jordan river. The same artist who hung the canvas of Agony Grotto here applied a skillful brush. Every shade and color is capably blended to carry out the motif, and there is a sympathy between the painting and the figures that help make the grotto the unique work it is. From the South wall the painting swings easily and naturally across the western extension into the inland country of Jerusalem. Out of the mists of a painted country materialize the homes of an Eastern architecture tastefully arrange on the rocky soil that rears its rugged coast above the water’s level. Thus, too, the highways and byways of the illusion are continued in the stone and sand formations of the grotto. The floor is of colored cement, its border relieved with flower designs. Its southwest reach forms the outer bank of the river that reveals itself in a pool of water beneath. In this pool we have the central figures of Christ and John, the Baptist. Carved in Tyrol, Austria, the statues are of wood and lifesized, as are all the other figures in the setting. His shoulders bared to the flowing waters, our Divine Savior gently inclines His Sacred Head. Standing on a bit of projecting rock, the Baptist drains a shell of its water as he holds it over the head of his beloved Master. Suspended by a barely perceptible cord, hovers the symbol of the Holy Ghost, and in the circular window of the colored skylight appear the words: “This is my beloved son.” On a broad expanse of shore land a group of three awe-inspired men stand directly to the rear of this touching scene. As our eye travels from this group we pass along the winding path that crosses the bridge, and on the other side we meet a shepherd and his flock on the hillside. The moss-covered rock is reproduced in the picture and the sheep are seen coming in from the distant plains in answer to the call of their shepherd. Beneath this scene a drawer has been built into the surrounding stones. Here are kept the holy oils, cotton, ritual, stole and all the necessary material for the administration of the sacrament of baptism. In a place of its own, the outer shell of the receptacle in harmony with its surroundings, stands the well of the consecrated baptismal water. A bit of projecting marble serves as a bracket for the candle and its holder. To the right of this is a large cross done in mosaic, and before this cross, in a cast-iron support stands a large, deep bowl over which is inclined the head of the catechumen or the infant. As we now turn to our right, we get a better view of the pool that flows about the naked feet of the Savior. A number of fish have drifted toward the shore and are seen darting to and fro over the surface. Ready to spring into the cool waters is a large stone frog. On closer inspection we notice a number of smaller ones, and then we note a caged-off cavern in one of the several caves. Threatening to wrench the bars that confine him is the evil spirit extended to the full height of his 18 inches. His feet are cloven, from his hideous head project two horns, while his tail swings its arrow tip against unyielding rock. He witnesses that first baptism, and impotent rage must spend itself by devising means of undoing what the Son of God has come to accomplish. In the stream above, a turtle contentedly squats in the refreshing water. Further inland is a sign of vegetation and even habitation blending happily with the pictured fields and distant cities of the mural painting. Pretty birds of vari-colored plumage are resting in the tree-tops. A lone house of eastern architecture is suggestive of the town as it meets the painted background. The art symbolism of this inspiring work unfolding itself to our inner consciousness, we pass up the left aisle to spend a few moments at the Shrine of our Sorrowful Mother.