Monday, November 08, 2010

Behold the Man Somewhere Else

Recently I drove on US 20 from the northwestern suburbs of Chicago to Rockford, Ill. I recommend it over I-90 for that particular trip, and not only because much of the road is the U.S. Grant Memorial Highway. On a clear day in early November, the rural route has its charms, including the remaining leaf colors, newly bare branches, farm fields now at rest for the season, tumbledown barns, signs large and small, towns only small, and unexpected sights.

At an intersection not far east of the town of Marengo, a large billboard announces that the Ecce Homo Shrine isn't far away, promising an unexpected sight to see. The billboard said something about baroque design, though I didn't make note of the exact phrasing. But the tone of the thing was, C'mon now, visit our shrine! Not far away!

How could I resist? A baroque shrine out in exurban Illinois: for all I knew, that could be the 1,001st thing you have to see before you die. Or maybe an unexpectedly quiet place for reflection and prayer. Either of those kinds of places would be worth stopping for.

So I turn off US 20 and then take another turn, and before long I see the shrine on the left side of the road, I drive up to the gate -- which is closed by a rope hanging between two posts. A sign on one post, like the sort you might buy in a hardware store, says KEEP OUT. On the other post another sign says PRIVATE PROPERTY.

I sat there for a few seconds, taking that in. I confirmed that this was, indeed, the shrine I'd been looking for. A sign not far away from the gate told me that. Then I noticed that two security cameras were pointing right at me, one on each of the posts also sporting the unwelcoming signs.

Fine. Maybe the Chicago-based Fraternite Notre Dame, which owns the shrine, has had trouble with vandals. Still, I hadn't felt that unwelcome at a religious site since I was brusquely ordered to leave the grounds of the Masjid Sultan in Singapore, though I'd visited no prohibited areas. Why the billboard, if all you see at the shrine are signs telling you to get lost? It was hard to think of the place as a House of God. More like a Gated Community of God, I think.

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