For three decades, Salvatore Verdirome’s 3-acre backyard provided solace and entertainment to thousands of visitors.
Known as the Sanctuary of Love, the terraced yard in Greeneville, Conn., was lavishly decorated with rows of sturdy white crosses and religious statues framed inside 47 upended, cast-iron bathtubs. Designed in 1971 by Verdirome, the shrine also included artistic renditions of the 10 Commandments, the Stations of the Cross and the Sea of Glass from the Book of Revelations.
Visitors to the shrine viewed the displays of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and various saints by walking on paths decorated with mosaics and religious sayings. When the Foxwoods Resort Casino opened in nearby Mashantucket, Conn., gamblers made a point of stopping by the shrine to pray for luck — and returned when their prayers were denied. Although Verdirome never charged admission to the Sanctuary of Love, some guests donated money or old, claw-foot tubs. At the entrance to the shrine, he welcomed all visitors with a sign that read: “Your faith has brought you here.”
A deeply religious man, Verdirome used to collect day-old doughnuts and give them to the needy. He also gathered recyclable bottles and cans, then used the deposit money to buy food for local homeless shelters. For many years, he allowed strangers to stay on his property at no charge. In 2000, city leaders foreclosed on Verdirome’s home to recoup $100,000 in unpaid taxes and utility bills. The religious sanctuary was dismantled two years later, and all of the statues were auctioned off.
Verdirome died on May 15 of a stroke. He was 84.