ST. JOHN — It's not easy building a mountain, especially one that includes an eternally burning bush, but Frank Schilling did his best.
Schilling's Shrine of Christ's Passion on U.S. 41 is preparing to open its latest feature, Moses descending Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, sometime in April. It took more than 160 semis full of boulders, some weighing several tons, and smaller rocks, called rip rap, along with thousands of loads of dirt and clay to create a realistic mountain.
The idea for this addition to the popular shrine came in 2010 but had to wait until 2013 for actual construction because of the other work being done at the site. A system of tiles and drains had to be installed to create a stable base for the thousands of tons of rock and dirt. Schilling said recent rains have really tested the system.
With the drainage system in place, Schilling said he and Ray Linz, a landscape architect who also happens to be married to his niece, spent long hours placing the materials just right.
"The toughest part was to make it as realistic as possible," he said. "We worked every day to set the rocks so it was as authentic as we could make it, and we did it without a plan. Some days we set only five or six boulders. We'd set one, step back and look at it, then move it a few inches to give it a more natural look."
Almost a mile of cable was needed to provide the lighting and sound system for the display. Making the burning bush, where Moses receives the word of God, seem realistic took several tries, he said.
"We tried three or four avenues, but everything looked too artificial. We decided the best way is to have the brightest glow to symbolize it, and people can imagine it. There are branches the light shines through to make it appear real. At night you can see the glow from the road about a quarter mile away."
As with the Stations of the Cross path, visitors to the Moses scene can push a button to get a narration that includes the "voice of God" reading the commandments with the voice provided by the Rev. Sergius Wroblewski, a retired Franciscan priest.
Schilling had hoped to have the new feature open for this Easter weekend, but it's not finished and now the unveiling is planned for sometime in April with help from Bishop Donald Hying and the Rev. Sammie Maletta, who is on the board of directors for the shrine.
"The main reason we did this: we were bombarded by the Supreme Court rulings saying we could not have the Ten Commandments in the courts or the schools and the public arena," Schilling said. "I told my wife, 'What can we do?' The only thing we could do was build something that looked like Mount Sinai and have Moses coming down the mountain.
"I think years from now people won't even know God gave us the commandments. That's what's wrong with the world. When you can visualize the Ten Commandments and actually see and hear Moses, it's easier for people to relate to the Ten Commandments. I hope this will be here for hundreds of years for people to see."