Matter of Faith: Smallest Church - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Matter of Faith: Smallest Church

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FESTINA (KWWL) -

Referred to as the world's smallest church, the St. Anthony of Padua Chapel is 14 feet by 20 feet with seating for eight people.

Located in rural Winneshiek County, it was built in 1885.

The main reason for the chapel may be because of a mother's promise. In the 1790s, 16-year-old Johann Gaertner was drafted into the French Army.

His mother supposedly made a promise that if her son returned home, she would build a chapel in honor of the Virgin Mary, but she was unable to fulfill her promise.

Gaertner eventually immigrated to America. He knew of his mother's promise and even repeated it to his children. One day, Johann, his daughter Mary Ann and his son-in-law Frank Joseph Huber visited the site of an old mission church and Mary Ann thought it would be a good place to build a chapel and fulfill the promise.

It still stands today. Through the years, descendants of Gaertner have acted as caretakers, including Arthur Huber of Fort Atkinson and Mary Richmond of Hawkeye.

"It's especially meaningful to me because my husband and I were married here 62 years ago," said Mary Richmond.

Richmond said the chapel wasn't built to serve as a functioning church, but rather a place to stop and say a prayer.

It's open year-round for people to visit and there's one mass a year.

"The only service we hold out here is in June. Originally June 13th, which is the feat day of St. Anthony of Padua, and that's supposedly a relative but who knows and that's the reason it was name for him," said Richmond.

Besides the chapel, there's a cemetery on the grounds and in 1996 a log cabin was moved to the site.

Originally located about a mile away, it's the first home of Frank Joseph and Mary Ann Huber.

Visitors from all over have explored the grounds and small chapel.

"We have a log in there where people sign their name. There's people out here all the time," said Arthur Huber.

There's also a box inside for people to donate to the upkeep of the chapel. The goal of Gaertner's relatives is to maintain the chapel, and their family history, for many years to come.

Reporter: Danielle Wagner

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