Every year, thousands make a trip to Holy Hill which is about 5 miles south of Hartford, Wisconsin.
About 35 miles north of Milwaukee on Highway 167, Holy Hill is well worth the trip. You do not need to be Catholic to appreciate making the trip. Located in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine area, Holy Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also a Wisconsin State Landmark. For some, it is the southeastern Wisconsin scenery that brings them. Yet, Holy Hill is a place of worship for Catholics as well as a monastery.
First and formost, Holy Hill is a place of worship for Catholics.
It’s fitting to respect this no matter what your religious beliefs. There are daily and weekend Masses. There are often weddings in the cathedral as well as other special services. Be discreet.
The cathedral itself is beautiful!
Both the outside and the inside offer amazing views. I suggest picking up a self-guided tour map just outside the gift shop. It will highlight areas of interest.
Inside, there is the stained glass windows. There are the murals and artwork to enjoy also. There are both the main cathedral and the lower chapel.
Outside, there is the wonderful architecture of the church with the two towering spires. There is a half-mile walk with 14 sculptures representing the Passion of Jesus. Additionally, the 400 acre grounds is crossed by the Wisconsin Ice-Age Trail providing wonderful hiking. Being in the Wisconsin Kettle Moraine area, Holy Hill itself is a part of the scenery. It’s towers are visible for miles around much like a European castle.
There is plenty of parking. Some of the parking is located well down below the shrine and it will take a bit of an uphill walk. Of course, it’s all downhill when you leave then. 🙂 There are some picnic tables provided in the area for picnics.
If you don’t care to bring your own picnic, you can get something at the Holy Hill Cafe. There is a Sunday breakfast buffet also.
I was surprised to learn Holy Hill has a guest house. You can stay overnight at Holy Hill. You have a choice of staying at the Guest House (with separate bathrooms for each room) or in the Old Monastery originally built in 1919. The Old Monastery is said to have kept all its old character and quirks.
The Holy Hill Scenic Tower.
You can climb one of the towers nearly to it’s 192 foot top. It’s a 178 steps to a fantastic 360 degree view of the Kettle Moraine countryside. The steps start in the second level (outside the lower chapel). The stairs start normal enough. As you go higher and higher they get narrower and narrower. The narrowest sections also are open to the elements and can be a bit much if you have a problem with heights. It’s fine to avoid looking down on your way up but remember you’ll need to look down as you go down the stairs. I was in the tower on a very crowded day and a lady proudly announced that after trying for nearly 40 years, she was finally at the top.
The view from the tower is worth the effort (it can be a lot of effort if you go fast so take your time) of climbing the stairs. On a clear day, you can easily see the City of Milwaukee skyline some 30 miles away. The colors in fall are fantastic in the area and you can see them for miles. The tower is open May through October. It may be closed due to bad weather as it is open to the elements (even if you are not afraid of heights you probably would not like being on some parts of the stairway in heavy wind). While there is an elevator for the church and chapel, the tower is simple not handicap accessible. There is a $.50 donation asked to climb the tower. I may skip the cathedral on a visit, but can’t imagine visiting Holy Hill without going up in the tower for the view. It’s a much better view than the Sears Tower in Chicago, IL., at least in my opinion.
Holy Hill’s history dates back to the mid to late 1850’s.
There is also some interesting Native American Indian history of a black robed chief that wore a crucifix and rosary who is believed to have been in the area in the late 1600’s. This is often combined with dates and information from a map a man named Francois Soubrio possessed, indicting it could be the French expeditions in this area from 1673 to 1679. Francois Soubrio himself, is a legendary figure from 1862 and is called the Hermit of Holy Hill.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used the hill in 1873 and again a few years later . They used it while mapping out Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, and Lake Superior for the Department of the Interior. Holy Hill also gained the name of Governement Hill because of these surveys and a survey by the Treasury Department.
By 1876 the property (originally 40 acres) was deeded to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Holy Hill was originally a log chapel just 16 feet square. In 1879 work began on a second shrine that would require 200000 bricks that would have taken 1000 trips by horse and wagon to the top of the hill. In 1885 a 1200 pound bell was added and this bell is the largest still used today. In 1919 construction on a monastery or friary was started. In 1926, construction on the third and present day shrine was started. Work on the present day friary finished in 1938 and was the last major construction. Other additions have been the elevators and gift shop.
A trip to Holy Hill is worth the 40 minute trip from Milwaukee.
Both the surrounding area and the church itself are a beautiful site nearly any time of year. Its rich history makes it a National Historic Site. It is a great way to spend an afternoon or do some hiking in the area and spend a whole day.
Google Map of Holy Hill, Wisconsin
Holy Hill website: