Walk the oldest outdoor Way of the Cross

Nestled in the hills behind the St. Donatus Catholic Church in St. Donatus, Iowa is the oldest outdoor Way of the Cross in the United States. It was constructed in 1861 and symbolizes Christ’s journey to his crucifixion. It is a simple mowed path that passes fourteen stations on an approximate half-mile path that leads to the Pieta Chapel at the top of the bluff.

Address: 97 E 1st St, St Donatus, IA 52071

This view is from the halfway point on the Way of the Cross, looking back across the valley to see the steeple from the St. Donatus Church and St. John’s Lutheran Church in the background.

Who built the outdoor Way of the Cross in St. Donatus, Iowa?

The Way of the Cross was built in 1861 under the direction of Father Flammang.

Signage at the start of the Way of the Cross

How long is the Way of the Cross path – and what should we expect?

It’s just under a half mile from the back of the church to the Pieta Chapel at the top. It’s a simple mowed path with rocks and tree roots sticking out – so please wear appropriate shoes for the hike. Along the path are fourteen stations each 5′ X 5′ in size with open, arched entrances and gabled roofs. The stations are spread out at intervals of approximately 250 feet. Somewhere along the path, you will encounter a group of sheep. Don’t worry, once they notice you, they will take off and move to a different location, but will still keep a curious eye on you. The sheep are in charge of maintenance and keep the vegetation from overgrowing on the hill.

What chapel is at the top of the path behind St. Donatus Church?

Pieta Chapel is located high above St. Donatus Church at the end of the Way of Cross path. The Pieta Chapel was built in 1885. Father Michael Flammang, who organized the Way of Cross path, left behind funds to build the chapel. It was modeled after the Chapel du Bildchen, near Flammang’s hometown in Luxembourg.

Interior of the Pieta Chapel that sits on a hill overlooking the town of St. Donatus, Iowa
The view of the St. Donatus Church steeple against the surrounding fields.

What happens on the Way of Cross during Good Friday?

Every afternoon of Good Friday, the parish from St. Donatus leads a procession carrying the cross along the path, stopping at each station to retell the story of Christ’s passion.

What does the St. Donatus Catholic Church look like inside?

Aerial view of the steeple at St. Donatus Church in St. Donatus, Iowa
Interior of St. Donatus Church as seen from the balcony.
Steps leading to the entrance of St. Donatus Catholic Church in St. Donatus, Iowa


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