Posted by: reisendame | January 30, 2008

Strange Religion

When we were too young to protest Christianity, my brother and I twiddled our thumbs in the backseat of our mom’s purple Taurus wagon each Sunday, and each Sunday we passed a giant cross off CT’s I-84 on the way to the Southern Baptists’ Naugatuck Valley Community Church.

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The landmark always served as an eerie (if not coincidental) sign that Sunday school was just around the corner, and I dreaded getting there. The services left me bored stiff each and every week– I always wondered why we couldn’t hop off the highway and drive up to the cross instead.

It was more than ten years later until I discovered what else was on that mountain with that cross; what was once a religious “theme park” of sorts (complete with gift shop), “Holyland U.S.A” had become a run-down replica of Biblical locales and staple figures.

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Holy Land postcard from the ’60s

In the 1950s, a lawyer named John Greco supposedly was “instructed by God” to construct miniature versions of places like Bethlehem and Jerusalem, along with the huge crucifix I mentioned before. Using old chicken wire, aluminum siding, and concrete chunks, Greco nearly single-handedly created this “masterpiece.” Church groups from all over the U.S. actually used to take bus trips to Waterbury, just to worship in the city’s very own Holy Land.

Greco bequeathed the park to an order of nuns when he died in the 1980s, and they shut the park down. For undisclosed reasons, these ladies refused numerous efforts to preserve or restore the now-decrepit tribute to Christ. The only “pilgrimages” to Holy Land are now made by drunks, vandals, and curious explorers like myself.

Or, the crusaders who’ve recently made plans to remove the 50-ft tall iron crucifix (which lights up at night), as it poses a danger to those who come close.

I can see where the concerned are coming from. The glass sides of the monument have been punched through, as frayed wires spill out of an electrical box hanging inside. It is quite easy for a person to climb up the rusted rungs of the ladder that leads to the very top; in fact, my brother did just that during our most frequent visit.

An anonymous donor and the nuns are trying to raise the $250,000 necessary for a new cross. This resurrection may or may not occur.

This place is so in-your-face full-of-symbolism that it’s overwhelming and almost a little too much. During one trip, I saw that someone had placed a copy of “God is not Great” at the base of the cross that’s graffittied with the anarchy emblem and phrases like”I’m not convinced!”

Scanning the Waterbury city-scape from that mountain-top, I couldn’t help but think that it more than resembled the broken-down Bethlehem Greco had once toiled over.

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There is something about the Holy Land that compelled me to take hundreds of pictures last time I went, and there’s something that makes me want to document this place before the underbrush and beer bottles swallow it up altogether.

Is it just me? Or does anyone else see something important or meaningful here, too? If so, then what?

A blogger inspired by a Holyland poem

Video tour of Holy Land:

Holy Land photos from yours truly

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Responses

  1. thank you for touching upon this topic. perusing the grounds of holy land is one of the most memorable experiences i’ll probably ever have. i pray to god, and the 50-foot cross itself, that it never gets ‘torn down’… OPERATION: SAVE HOLY LAND!

  2. I grew up in the shadow of this site, and although I have grown away from both the city and Christianity, Mr. Greco’s life’s work has left an indelible mark on my psyche. So many of these websites chronicling the site’s demise describe it with words like “kitsch” or act out their anger at Church through reveling in this place’s ruins, completely ignoring the fact that this is all that is left of the personal vision of “heaven on earth” as dreamed by a man who actually walked the walk, and who had an enormous amount of heart.

    It makes me sad to see Holy Land fall into the state it is now. It makes me even sadder to see people gloating over it.

    But, as you say, I feel deeply compelled to document the place, and have begun writing/drawing a graphic novel centered on the site. I only wish that when I was a kid I’d had the foresight to take pictures of it in its heyday, because it’s really hard to find reference photos of anything except destruction.

    But, anyway, thank you for this.

  3. [...] Strange Religion, my last blog about this topic, for more information on the Holy Land (plus some of my own opinions [...]


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