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Crowds of faithful flock to frozen Lake Michigan for rare glimpse of underwater crucifix

J-P Mauro - published on 03/14/19

One of the few crucifixes recorded to be under a fresh water source rests as a monument to fallen divers.

An estimated 1,200 faithful braved the frigid cold and an a trek across the frozen Lake Michigan to view a large crucifix that rests under usually murky waters. Located about 800 feet off the shore of Petoskey, Michigan — about 22 feet underwater — the massive 1,850-pound crucifix is one of the very few known to rest under a fresh water source.

Visitors to the site wait in line to enter a small tent, which prevents the sun’s rays from obscuring the view. With further aid from underwater lighting, the cross is viewable through a small hole made in the ice. That so many would wait in line over the frozen Great Lake is a testament to the importance of the monument to the small town of Petoskey.

The crucifix, carved by Italian artisans, was not initially meant to rest below Lake Michigan. Commissioned by a wealthy farming family from Rapson, Michigan, the nearly life-sized model of Christ was meant to mark the grave of their 15-year-old son, Gerald Schipinski, who had died in a shotgun related accident on their farm, in 1956.

Unfortunately, the long trip from Italy to Rapson had its own struggles, which resulted in one of Christ’s arms breaking off, along with other damage. The grieving family refused to accept the broken piece of art, not wishing to honor their son with a damaged memorial, but sending it back to Italy would prove to be prohibitively expensive. Instead it was displayed for a year at Rapson’s St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church and then put up for auction.

NCR reports the crucifix was bought for just $50 by the Wyandotte Superior Dive Club, from the Detroit downriver suburb of Wyandotte, who then put up an additional $900 to repair the broken arm of the Christ sculpture. On Aug. 12, 1962, carried by the U.S. Icebreaker Sundew, the crucifix was laid to rest in the waters of Lake Michigan to commemorate Charles Raymond, a diver from Southgate, Michigan who drowned in nearby Torch Lake.

The initial resting place of the cross was about 1,200 feet off the shore and was submerged 55 feet. After several years, this was deemed too difficult of a dive for the majority of divers to appreciate, so it was moved about 400 feet closer to the shore, where it rests now. Eventually, the club expanded its remembrance to include all divers who have lost their lives in Michigan’s waters.

Now, it is an annual tradition that one weekend of February or March — when the ice is thick enough to allow — is dedicated to viewing the monument. For the last 3 years the ice has been too unstable to support the crowds, but in 2015, the last year the cross was viewed, it drew an estimated 2,021 visitors. These pilgrims stood in line in arctic weather conditions for over two and a half hours for a rare glimpse of Christ resting below the ice.

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