Steuben County Catholic creates grotto in honor of Mary
WAYLAND — If devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary could be gauged in terms of physical labor, it would be pretty tough to top John Landino’s expression of faith.
Last Sept. 14, Landino finished a project that was six years in the making: a Marian shrine stretching 37 feet across and weighing some 125 tons — a quarter of a million pounds. Nearly the entire grotto, located on Landino’s property on County Road 38 in northern Steuben County, is the product of his own expert handiwork.
“This was so time-consuming. I put my heart and soul into it,” he said.
His masterpiece measures 12 feet high at its center, where a sign, “Grotto of the Pieta,” refers to the sculpture below of Mary cradling Jesus’ deceased body in her lap. The statue is surrounded by approximately 1,200 stones — each of which, Landino said, took about an hour to set in place. The stones were gleaned from a variety of sources, including his 40 acres of land, nearby fields and a gravel pit.
“We did not buy a single stone. If it was laying there, it was gone,” he said.
Landino, 81, a longtime parishioner of Holy Family Catholic Community, toiled extensively on the grotto over the past few years, only taking breaks during the colder months. He said that he embarked upon the project in thanksgiving to God for his long, healthy life — “The Good Lord has blessed me” — and to use his talents for creating a spiritual legacy: “God gave me these artistic hands.”
Although Grotto of the Pieta is situated on his scenic private property, Landino welcomes anybody who wishes to stop there for prayer, reflection and/or to admire the artwork. He noted that many people have already paid visits, with Sunday afternoons being the most popular time. The grotto is set back approximately 200 feet from the road near a wooded area; visitors may either remain in their vehicles or walk up close to the shrine. Landino pointed out that the shrine’s rural, outdoor setting makes it easy for folks to maintain social distancing and thus prevent spread of the coronavirus.
Last fall, shortly after Grotto of the Pieta was completed, a parish rosary recitation was held there honoring the Miracle of Fatima. Another public event had been scheduled for this past May 17 when a large-scale blessing/dedication of the shrine was to have taken place, in observance of the month traditionally reserved for Marian devotion. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced that event to be put on hold for now, Landino said it will be rescheduled once government restrictions for large gatherings have been lifted.
Landino remarked that opportunities for people to view the grotto are likely to extend many generations into the future, saying, “This is built to last a few thousand years.”
As for himself, Landino said he designed the shrine so that it can be seen clearly from his house across the street. However, he prefers viewing it up-close whenever possible.
“I come here just about every day. I love it here,” he stated.
A longtime machine-shop owner in Wayland, Landino is well known locally for employing his handiwork for other faith-related efforts. Perhaps the most notable of those endeavors is a 25-foot-high steel cross that he constructed in 1974; it was erected that year atop Calvary Hill on the outskirts of town to replace a wooden cross that had been destroyed by vandals. The cross remains firmly in place today and is the end point for an ecumenical Way of the Cross through the village that has been a Good Friday tradition since the early 1970s. Landino is one of the cross walk’s original participants and has continued to walk annually on Good Friday.
Now that the massive grotto project is finally behind him, what other creations might Landino be cooking up?
“My wife (Rose) says, ‘Don’t you dare start something else,’” he said with a laugh.