Numerous iron cross grave markers are located in the cemeteries throughout Ellis County near the outskirts of the communities. The St. Fidelis Cemetery north of Victoria attracts many visitors because of the unusual iron crosses. Out of town visitors on their way to see the magnificent “Cathedral of the Plains” will often notice the numerous iron cross grave markers. The ornate and decorative crosses were made of steel and various pieces of iron by local Volga German blacksmiths. Using a hammer, anvil and forge, these early artisans crafted crosses of iron, steel and other metals, often from pieces of scrap material. The cross represented the sacred and the iron represented strength--attributes of the pioneers they honored. The iron crosses were particularly suited as prairie monuments. Unlike wooden crosses, those made of wrought iron or other metals were tough enough to withstand prairie fires, storms and even time itself. These crosses mark the gravesites of the earliest burial locations in the St. Fidelis Cemetery.
The various cemeteries in Ellis County have anywhere from 13 to over 100 iron cross grave markers. St. Fidelis cemetery, located just north of Victoria has the most iron crosses with 110. You are welcome to visit any of these cemeteries sunrise to sunset.
Ellis - 21 (St. Mary’s & Mt Hope)
Hays - 28
Pfeifer - 50
Schoenchen - 32
Walker - 16
Most farms had a blacksmith shop on site and the crosses could be made in the winter when the farm work was slow and the heat of the forge was more tolerable. Some parts such as crucifixes were ordered from large cities. Most of the local crosses were forged and not cast.
The tradition of using wrought iron crosses for grave markers goes back at least to the 1600s in Austria and Bavaria. The most prominent use of the ornate wrought-iron grave crosses were by the Germans who immigrated from Russia to Western Kansas, South Dakota and North Dakota. To the casual observer, one might interpret the blacksmith artists were trying to convey a celebration of life of the deceased with the beautiful scrollwork of sunbursts, vines, roses, lilies, angels and hearts. Behind every cross there was a story and for each story, the iron crosses could continue to preserve the memories of those loved ones they paid tribute to.
For additional information call the Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau at
785-628-8202. www.haysusa.net or www.germancapitalofkansas.com
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