His Highness and I just returned from a trip to Eureka Spring, Arkansas. Are you familiar with Eureka Springs?
It’s an historic town that became popular around 1880 because locals believed its many natural springs had healing powers. Eureka Springs’ Main Street runs down the bottom rib of a valley. The rest of the streets and structures snake upward from there. What’s absolutely astonishing to me is that SO MANY old buildings have survived to the present day. I walked and walked one afternoon, up steep roads and down steep roads, and came upon one quaint, stunningly well-preserved Victorian building after another. It turns out that the entire city is on the National Register of Historic Places!
Before I give you a peek at the considerably more recent and no less sublime Thorncrown Chapel, here’s a glimpse at Eureka Springs.
The town stirred my imagination and charmed me thoroughly.
Now… onward to the chapel.
Friends of mine who were raised in northwest Arkansas told me that Thorncrown Chapel was not to be missed. Since two worship services are held there every Sunday, His Highness and I made plans to attend. I love experiencing “church” in various styles and languages and through different singers and ministers.
Here’s the view of Thorncrown that greeted us as we approached….
And here’s the moving story behind the chapel, as printed in the pamphlet we were given.
“In 1971 Jim Reed purchased the land which is now the site of the chapel to build his retirement home. However, other people admired his location and would often stop at his property to gain a better view of the beautiful Ozark Hills. Instead of fencing them out, Jim decided to invite them in.
One day while walking up the hill to his house, the idea came to him that he and his wife should build a glass chapel in the woods to give wayfarers a place to relax in an inspiring way.
Shortly thereafter, Jim met E. Fay Jones, a professor at the University of Arkansas. Much to Jim’s surprise, Jones was quick to accept the proposal to build the chapel. On March 23, 1979, the construction crew broke ground on the mountain side. Jim’s dream looked like it would soon be a reality.
However, halfway through the project, funds began to run out.
Soon the building process ground to a halt. Jim began to believe he had made the biggest mistake of his life. He desperately tried to raise the necessary funds to complete his dream, but all his efforts failed.
Finally, one evening Jim took what he thought would be one last walk down to his half–finished chapel. He would take one last look and never return. Then the unexpected happened. Describing his experience Jim said, “I am not proud of the fact, but the first time I ever got down on my knees was on the chapel floor. I prayed more seriously than ever before. All the trials and tribulations gave me the humility to get on my knees.” That evening Jim reached the end of himself, but he soon found that God’s kindness had just begun.
A few days later, a generous woman from Illinois provided a loan, allowing Jim to finish his dream. On July 10, 1980, Thorncrown Chapel opened. Since then people from all over the world [more than six million!] have come to visit the little chapel in the woods.”
The architect mentioned above, E. Fay Jones, was mentored by Frank Lloyd Wright and was renowned for his skill. Of all his buildings, however, Thorncrown would become Jones’s most acclaimed.
When sitting inside the chapel, I felt completely surrounded by nature. It contains 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. There’s stone below, trees on all sides, and a view of the sky above.
I shot this short video to give you a sense of the structure:
We had a wonderful time in Arkansas!
Can you name a building you’ve visited that struck you as being an architectural masterpiece? Have you worshipped lately at a church other than your own?