The Surprising Success of a Chapel Built to End a Grasshopper Plague

A plague of grasshoppers almost destroyed Minnesota
A plague of grasshoppers almost destroyed Minnesota | © Matt Trostle / Flickr
Elizabeth Nicholas

When you think of plagues and the Bible, you probably think of the story in the Old Testament in which God brings 10 plagues to the Egyptians.

But did you know that there is a relatively modern American corollary?

It all begins in the summer of 1873 when the Rocky Mountain locust left their homes in the Rocky Mountains and made their way to Minnesota.

When they arrived in Minnesota, the grasshoppers laid eggs in the wheat fields where they began to feast on the crops that the farmers in the state depended on for their livelihoods. Once their wings fully developed, they would fly off to devastate another nearby crop.

Minnesota is covered in wheat fields

This destruction went on for four years, which was horrific for a heavily agrarian economy. The grasshoppers ate everything—crops, wooden furniture, and even clothing.

The farmers tried everything to stop the grasshoppers—many grabbed them by hand and in buckets, and others tried to make machines out of sheet metal and tar to drag over the field and catch the grasshoppers. But no human intervention was a match for the insects.

A plague of grasshoppers almost destroyed Minnesota

By the spring of 1877, grasshoppers covered two-thirds of Minnesota. At their wit’s end, the people of the state turned to the spiritual. The governor even declared a statewide day of prayer to pray for an end to the epidemic. But nothing worked.

That is until a parish in northern Minnesota decided to build a church in honor of the Virgin Mary “to take refuge in her… and be freed from the ravages of the grasshopper plague.” Construction of the chapel began in mid-July, and then, as the famous author Laura Ingalls Wilder recorded in her book, they simply left one day in July. The grasshoppers had decided to go back West where they came from. And the only thing that had changed was the chapel had been built.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about the plague in her book

The chapel cost only $865 to complete and was constructed in less than a month. By the time the second mass took place in September, there were no more grasshoppers to be found anywhere.

Today, the church, which is now called the Assumption Chapel, holds special masses. These masses are to pray for good harvests—only a fitting use for a church that has already saved a crop like nothing else could.

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