The ruins of Holyland have been a cyber-staple since the early days of the internet. Often, they appear on "weird Americana" sites which, under their layer of faux appreciation, radiate a sense of superior sophistication when confronting non-ironic and artistically-naive expressions of belief.

John Greco, a Waterbury, Connecticut lawyer and Catholic evangelist, created Holyland on the rocky ledges of Pine Hill in 1956. Eventually his devotional park included a scale model Bethlehem, an army of statuary, catacombs, a chapel, a gigantic fiberglass bible, and a five story illuminated cross that still shines in the night sky above I-84. During its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, Holyland constantly added new tableaux, model buildings, and giant tablets bearing biblical quotations and drew as many as 45,000 visitors annually. But in 1984 the eighty-nine year old Greco closed the park, although he continued to live on the grounds until a week before his death in 1986. Afterwards Holyland, which passed to a Catholic religious order, was extensively vandalized. Despite periodic rumors of renovation, the catacombs were sealed in 1999 and the front gates remain locked.

While Holyland may be officially closed, it is scarely deserted. On the chilly overcast Saturday before Easter, a family with children was walking the overgrown stations of the cross trail, while a couple took turns photographing each other amid the tumbled buildings of Bethlehem. The wind whipped unintelligible voices through the overgrown evergreens at the replica of Calvary, giving a conspiritorial air to what were probably casual conversations. A neat platoon of empty bottles stood beside the Temple of the Rock.

Holyland has had a dreadful effect on those who've recorded its decline on the internet. Somehow it saps every photographers' originality, and yields interchangeable images of the same smashed concrete tablets, uprooted miniature buildings, and mutilated statuary. At the same time, there is something so sadly compelling about these ruins that it is impossible not to try to express the sensations that they inspire.

ABOVE: Not surprisingly, the most intact neighborhood in miniature Bethlehem is on Pine Hill's steepest slopes, behind what was the "Grotto of the Nativity". As Stan Horzepa's 1960s postcard image shows, the city once covered much of the hillside. Many of Holyland's surviving displays, have been tagged with anarchist symbols or satanic graffitti.

BELOW: The skyline of Bethlehem blends into the rooftops of Waterbury. Many of the miniature buildings are fabricated from materials like drain pipe, sheetmetal ducts, or chicken wire smeared with cement. Chipped and rusted, even those that have escaped the vandals show the effects nearly 25 years of neglect.

LEFT: Jesus still receives offerings despite the loss of his hands. The votive candle at his feet must be lit frequently, as it is surrounded by match stubs.

RIGHT: The summit of Pine Hill is a plateau with gigantic upthrust knobs of rock, forebodingly lonely and windswept after the climb past ruined trailside statuary and vandalized tableaux. Some websites call the fifty-odd foot tall cross "high-tech". It is actually a sturdy homemade- looking structure of welded channel iron clad in translucent yellow-green plastic. in the 1950s and 1960s, the cross reportedly was made to shine red during the Christmas season, probably through swapping tinted panels.

LEFT: A truncated figure stands in what was once the Garden of Gethesmane. Holyland postcards show statues of everything from shepherds' flocks to the apostles to the sphinx. Virtually all that remain, including the entryway statue of Jesus, have been damaged. However, most have simply vanished without a trace.

BELOW: This toppled cross once bore a crucified Christ , who was attended by a circle of mourners. Ironically, the thieves' flanking crosses are still upright. The Calvary tableaux, gradually being swallowed by evergreens, overlooks downtown Waterbury from the plateau summit of Pine Hill.

A full catalogue of Holyland's current remanents can be found by googling its name.

Stan Horzepa's wa1lou was here site features a dozen vintage Holyland postcards which can't be seen anywhere else on the internet.

Road Maven's Road Trip Memories site includes images from color slides shot by his uncle during the construction of the park in the mid-1950s, as well as contrasting photos from his visit in 2005.