The concept of a shrine, located between L'Anse and Baraga on Keweenaw Bay, began in the mid 1960s with an idea of County Clerk Bernard Lambert. Lambert was also the county historian and author of the book “Shepherd of the Wilderness,” an account of the “snowshoe priest,” who came to Baraga County from the Slovenian countries of Europe in 1843, founded what became the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette and converted to Christianity some 25,000 Chippewa Indians. For more information on the life of this famous bishop click here.
Anderson took the idea – and Lambert’s book – back to the drawing table and came up with a design everyone agreed would represent Bishop Baraga. Anderson said his basic inspiration for the design came from Lambert’s book.
The 35-foot brass figure of Bishop Baraga, holding a cross and a pair of snowshoes, floats on a cloud of stainless steel. The latter is supported by five huge, laminated parabolic wood beams, which rise from five concrete tepees, which represent the 5 major Indian missions founded by Bishop Baraga. The tepees will be 9 ˝ feet high, 50 percent open and each located at a point of a star that forms an area 64 feet in diameter at the base of the shrine. the shrine rises six stories and the figure weighs about four tons.
In 1972 after the statue was moved from Anderson’s studio in Lake Linden to the Red Rocks Bluff a near tragedy was averted when a flash of fire swept through the interior of the 35-foot tall monument as it was being erected. A welding torch was being used to trim the bottom of the statue when the polyurethane insulation in its interior caught fire. “I’ve never in my life seen anything go up so fast,” said Anderson. The foam insulation was completely burned and the heat from the fire scorched the lacquer coating on the statue’s exterior.
While the focus of the Bishop Baraga Shrine is the statue of Bishop Baraga, there are also a variety of other interesting things that people can see, including a gift shop, a replica of an Indian longhouse which was built for the burning of votive candles, a plaque establishing the trail that used to run from the Native people who lived in Baraga with their family and relatives at LacView Desert by present day Watersmeet on the border with Eagle River, Wisconsin. While people may visit the Shrine at any time, the Gift Shop itself is opened Thursday through Monday from 11 am to 5 pm.
The life of Bishop Baraga is fascinating and presently the Catholic Church is investigating his canonization. The Bishop Baraga Shrine and the Bishop Baraga Association in Marquette are working together toward this goal. This summer, for the first time, Bishop Baraga Days will be held in L'Anse and Baraga with a mass in the Ojibwa language scheduled.