Holy Land USA sign and cross in 1960
|Location||Waterbury, Connecticut, USA|
Holy Land USA is an 18-acre (7.3 ha) theme park in Waterbury, Connecticut, inspired by selected passages from the Bible. It consists of a chapel, stations of the cross, and replicas of catacombs and Israelite villages constructed from cinder blocks, bathtubs, and other discards. The park closed to the public in 1984. Over its period of closure, the land and monuments faced the effects of vandalism. On September 14, 2014, the site officially reopened to the public for the first time in 30 years with an inaugural Mass and access to the grounds. The area is not currently open to the general public at this time.
Holy Land USA was conceived by John Baptist Greco, a Waterbury-based attorney. Greco, a Roman Catholic, founded a volunteer organization called Companions of Christ, with the purpose of creating an attraction that would replicate Bethlehem and Jerusalem of the Biblical era. Construction commenced in 1955. Bob Chinn, the grounds chairman at Holy Land USA, recalled Greco's mission in a 2001 interview with The New York Times: "He was a very spiritual man. He wanted to do this for the people of the community. He felt no one, no matter the race, creed or color, should be separated. He wanted a place for all people to sit and be peaceful."
Among the attractions at the site were a recreation of the Garden of Eden, a diorama depicting Daniel in the lions' den, and various recreations of the life and ministry of Jesus. The centerpiece of the site was a 56-foot (17 m) cross and an illuminated sign that read "Holy Land USA".
During its peak years in the 1960s and 1970s, Holy Land USA attracted upwards of 40,000 visitors annually. Greco closed Holy Land USA in 1984, with plans to improve and expand the site. But the work was left unfinished when Greco died in 1986. The property was left to the Filippini Sisters.
Since its closure, Holy Land USA had fallen into a state of advanced disrepair. Although it was not open to the public, the site continued to attract attention. In 2002, the Waterbury Region Convention and Visitors Bureau received more than 150 calls a year for directions to the site. The web site Roadside America has included it in its coverage of offbeat attractions, albeit with the cautionary note that visitors should "explore with caution (and with an up-to-date tetanus shot)." Many attractions and statues at the site had either been vandalized or otherwise fallen into disrepair.
There was ongoing debate about the site's future. It was suggested that the park be preserved as folk art, and there were numerous failed attempts to restore the park, including one involving the Knights of Columbus in 2000. The Religious Sisters of Filippi Greco were accused of fearing "liability and being sued" and thereby turning away volunteers and stopping restoration efforts, but they also received support from those who believed that, although accepting the park reluctantly, they had been "good stewards" over it. The Sisters held weekly prayer meetings at the site, and the holy hours on Sundays were devoted to the Virgin of Revelation, an apparition of the Virgin Mary witnessed in 1947 by an Italian on his way to assassinate Pope Pius XII in Rome. The Sisters claim the statue of the Madonna in the chapel is one of three commissioned by Pope John Paul II.
Despite the lack of full restoration, some renovation projects were undertaken while the park was closed. In 1997 a group of Boy Scouts repaired the illuminated "Holy Land USA" sign as part of a community service project, and in 2008 the original 56-foot cross was replaced with a 50-foot (15 m) stainless steel one, which was dedicated in a ceremony led by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell. In response to community outcry a new LED illuminated cross was installed in 2013. The new cross, funded by community donations and with work donated by local construction companies, is a steel structure that stands 65 feet high and 26 feet wide. The state of the art LED lighting system allows the cross to change color based on the Roman Catholic Liturgical colors.
On 11 August 2018, Archbishop Leonard Paul Blair of the Archdiocese of Hartford celebrated a Mass at the park honoring the legacy of Father Michael McGivney, who is under Vatican consideration for sainthood. McGinvney was the founder of the Knights of Columbus.
On June 20, 2013, Mayor Neil O'Leary and car dealer Fred "Fritz" Blasius purchased Holy Land from the Filippini Sisters for $350,000, announcing a plan to clean up and revitalise the site as part of a community effort. The plan included the installation of a new and larger lighted cross on the property. On December 22, 2013, the new cross was illuminated. Since the revival of the cross, the once-overgrown land has been cleared of trees and underbrush. Smaller projects have been put in place to refurbish small areas of the property.