A Morning at Crystal Shrine Grotto

by Moth Moth Moth | Photos by Marcus Menefee

One of the best-kept secrets in Memphis is in the Memorial Park of brilliant onyx and gold mausoleums, a throne said to be made with rocks blessed by fairies, the quietly famous Crystal Shrine Grotto. One of the somewhat overlooked jewels of Memphis marvel.

If you have lived in Memphis for a while and heard the name in passing, this article is your sign to drop everything and sucker a friend into driving you. I can guarantee the day will be memorable. Located at 5668 Poplar Avenue it’s very easy for locals to visit and a great stop for sightseers passing through the city.

On the property are several interesting features dotting the landscape of graves and flower arrangements. This may be a memorial site but there isn’t anything dour about it. Rolling landscaping of twists and turns. Well kept greenery and nature feature all about. Fountains, benches, and monolithic structures. It’s all quite brilliant, vastly and humbly. Plan a cool lunch before or after and I’m sure you could spend a good hour kicking around. Furthermore, it’s not a bad place for a picnic and a Grindr date.

Most people come here to lay their loved ones to rest, but others come here for the atmosphere and the fresh air. There is a lot of room to spread out, walk, and have your own experience.

Back in my hometown folks would spend a good deal of time at the graveyard. Just reading names from stones and burning time. This day sent me back to something more simple and easily forgotten in my memory. We associate memorials and grave sites with feeling down. Astroturf and sobbing relatives and preachers preaching.

But really, it’s just ground. And dirt. And grass. And clouds and air. And a thousand bodies below your feet.

Throughout history, sites of memory have always been a part of processing our short-lived lives. A waypoint of sorts. Some folks get burned and scattered in the ocean, some folks are laid to rest next to a man-made cavern of hot glue and Rose quartz. I think I prefer the latter.

The star attraction of Memorial Park however is the Crystal Shrine Grotto. An artist-created cavern structure that exists as one part shrine and one part art installation. Carved and assembled from materials such as wood, plaster, and lots of real crystals, the cavern is a marvel of work. A place of remarkable character.

Created by artist Dionicio Rodriguez, the cavern depicts the story of Christ through sculpture, painting, and prismatic colored lights. The glinting crystal displays are worth the drive alone, but to visit the shrine and experience the feeling of special intention that was fused into the walls is something that can only be found on your Memphis Bingo Card.

The sculptures and paintings are vibrantly lit and though the story the walls tell is somewhat linear, if you are anything like me you’ll be darting back and forth from nativity scenes to cityscapes to the oddly anachronistic security cameras peppered about the whole facility. If fascination and wonder are your friends, then this is worth the drive!

Within the shrine, there is an alcove for offerings. During our time there my companion and I noticed that most people leave pocket change but among the offerings left there we did see notes and letters, perhaps to past loved ones or addressed to god herself. We didn’t peek. But how beautiful that a big work of art could provide such a moment of respite.

It made me wonder what I might leave if given the urge to offer something in the cavern. There are very few things I pray for. So maybe just a flower or a small note to the universe. Maybe you would like to leave something upon your visit?

Just outside the cavern, you’ll find reflecting pools and the most gorgeous Ginkgo tree ever. This time of year the yellow Ginkgo leaves pepper the whole structure giving it a marvelously romantic dust of bright yellow.

Our current issue is about health, reproductive rights, and wellness in general. Let this article be an invitation to a small adventure- be it on your own or with a photographer friend you have manipulated into coming with you. A day among art, silk flowers, and the Tennessee winter sun is enough to recharge your batteries and inspiration. Tiny daytime adventures like this are excellent for those of us who work strange hours or who are gig workers. A second to step away, see something odd, and break the yolk of daily routine.

Visiting Memorial Park was one of my favorite moments of early winter 2021. And I think you may feel the same.

The Memorial Park is open most days from 6 AM-10 PM. No call or appointment is needed to view the shrine or park so long as the gates are open.