Cross Beams

Life on the road can be unsettling to the soul, so from time to time–when passing through towns and cities–we’ll randomly take our time to wander through a variety of houses of worship for a healthy dose of salvation and inner peace.

As we’ve wound our way across America, several sanctuaries have stood out for their historical significance, stunning architecture, and their integration into the communities they serve.

The chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was founded in the early 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission along the San Antonio River,

exterior choir

and distinguished itself as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, commemorating the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, when a 13-day siege ended in the Mexican army’s victory over 189 Texian soldiers.

lone star flag

Originally, the compound was intended as an education center for America’s Indians who converted to Christianity,

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but, ultimately the Alamo became a fortress of New Spain militiamen after the Franciscan missionaries abandoned it in 1793.

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In 2015, the Alamo was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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While exploring Big Sky country around Helena, Montana, Leah and I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena,

cathedral exterior

a Roman Catholic parish patterned after the Gothic form of Votive Church in Vienna, Austria,

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and distinctive for its 59 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

nave

Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1935, the cathedral was restored to its original design after three years of reconstruction.

rose window

The interior was gilded in time for the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee in 1959,

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and included in National Register of Historic Places in 1980–giving the residents of Helena something to crow about.

rose window perch


Romanesque architecture defines the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914,

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and attributed to patron Saint Louis IX, King of France.

ceiling of the Narthex (2)

However, the interior reflects from a Byzantine style rooted in soaring domes and mosaic art.

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Installation of the Cathedral’s mosaics–which adorn almost every decorative surface of wall, ceiling and dome–began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.

depiction of Pentacost

Twenty different artists collectively inlaid 41.5 million tessarae tiles of 7,000 colors, covering 83,000 square feet, making it the largest mosaic collection in the world.

depiction of Easter

Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral a basilica in 1997, where it acts as the mother church for the Archdiocese, and seat of its archbishop.

Historic Bay


In stark contrast, the Cadet Chapel–a multi-faith house of worship–soars heaven-bound at the Air Force Academy campus located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

chapel exterior

With 17 upright wings on edge, and piercing the sky at 150 feet, the Cadet Chapel is a stirring example of modern American Architecture.

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Constructed mostly of aluminum, glass, and steel,

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the main sanctuary is home to an Air Force Academy demographic that is primarily Protestant.

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However, the lower level of the structure houses chapels and prayer rooms for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians.

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The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award in 1996, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

stained glass ceiling


Also reflective of modern American architecture, and an homage to nature in its purest form is Thorncrown Chapel, nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas, on the edge of Eureka Springs.

Exterior

Constructed from the same Southern pine indigenous to the site, the chapel is so integrated into the landscape that it stealthily stands camouflaged by its surroundings,

camouflage

and represents an inside/outside sensibility, with Arts and Crafts flourishes.

pews and lights

Thorncrown Chapel was named a National Historic Place in 2000, and received the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2006 for design of enduring significance.

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The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is a Roman Catholic sanctuary built in the French Gothic style, and was dedicated in 1876.

St. John exterior

Twelve years later, fire gutted the interior, leaving behind only the walls and towers.

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Overcoming adversity, the church community quickly rebuilt much of what was destroyed, and resumed inside services in 1900,

alter

while interior decoration continued for an additional 13 years,

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to restore the stained glass and organ loft to its original splendor.

pipe organ

Embedded in Savannah’s Historic District, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was awarded landmark status by the National Park Service in 1966.

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Lastly, in our effort to somehow balance the preponderance of churches and chapels we’ve toured, we visited Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue in the Historic District of Charleston, South Carolina.

exterior

Kahal Kadosh is notable as the country’s second oldest synagogue, and the oldest in continuous use. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh grew into America’s largest and wealthiest Jewish community by the end of the 18th century.

historic landmark

A new vision of American Reform Judaism originated at this site in 1824 after parting ways from its conservative Sephardic origins.

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After Charleston’s fire of 1838 ravaged the city and destroyed the synagogue, a new Greek revival style was adopted for the new structure, with rich interior ornamentation,

Greek Revival

reminiscent of Greek temples.

peeling ceiling

Jewish services, according to reformist rituals and practices, were now conducted in English, with a new emphasis on organ music, and women were encouraged to participate with men on the main floor, breaking with a long-standing tradition of separation and isolation in the sanctuary balconies.

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The rich history and diversity of religion and protected religious freedoms in America cannot be overlooked as increased debate centers around self-centered interpretations of our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Moral outrage and hubris abound as politicians and public figures drape themselves in stars and stripes, while preaching to their flock from behind protective glass with handfuls of stones at the ready.

A reckoning of biblical proportion awaits us if we cannot ascend beyond our intolerance, and let each other live as we would have others let us live–in peace and without judgement.

Amen.

Eureka!

A stopover in Eureka Springs, AR along the way to Branson, MO produced some Eureka! moments and other assorted revelations.

For one, there are seventeen registered churches in Eureka Springs, ministering to two thousand healing hearts and souls around town, plus a Tibetan Buddhist temple and an integrated monastery of celibate brothers and sisters.

Religious overtones are also pervasive throughout town. Our Airstream was parked along Passion Play Rd., above the hallowed hollow where The Great Passion Play’s dramatic reenactment of the last week of Jesus Christ is the #1 tourist attraction in the area, and The Christ of the Ozarks rises nearby, hovering above the dense woods of Magnetic Mountain.

Jesus of the Ozarks

Christ sign

Big Jesus side view

Also looking down from town, the Crescent Hotel–recently added to the National Register of Historic Places–delivers luxurious living and salon services, in what’s billed as America’s Most Haunted Hotel.

Historic Crescent Hotel

Crescent Hotel

A fourth-floor lookout…

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provides familiar views in the distance,

Jesus over sunset

and an overlook of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church of Hungary–listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the only church in America with entry through the bell tower.

St. Elizabeth Church1 (2)

Stunning religious “art-chitecture” can also be found at the Thorncrown Chapel, a jewel of glass and wood tucked into the hillside atop a ledge of flagstone.

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Inside Eureka Springs’ Victorian historical district, the Byzantine-styled First Baptist Church stands at the corner of three intersecting streets with entrances at each of its four levels, giving it four distinct addresses and cause for another Ripley’s entry.

First Baptist Church

The charm of downtown carries through its narrow winding streets, acute corners, and graded roads of 30% or greater, routinely decorated with accents of fine art…

down the street

Steps to Spring St.

…and frivolity.

Humpty Dumpty gnome

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Eureka Springs came by its name naturally, manifesting no less than sixty-two springs that gushed from the mountainside with so-called healing properties. Its establishment as a resort community during the 1870’s prompted visitors from near and far to “take the waters” by drinking up and soaking in its therapeutic juices.

civil war healing

90% cure rate

Today, over a dozen springs have been restored to former glory.

Magnetic Spring plaque

Magnetic Spring

And while the water is no longer potable, the park habitats have given the springs a new lease on life,

Harding Spring

Basin Spring

and have renewed the town’s reputation as a popular healing destination,

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with an emphasis on preserved charm.

County Courthouse

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ball and house

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Palace Hotel gazebo

Perhaps the biggest paradox of Eureka Springs would have to be the town’s united commitment to all things ghosts and Halloween, given its adherence and roots in Christiandom, while billing itself as “the place” for the best Halloween party in America…

Grand Central Hotel

Chile Lily

…breathing spiritual relevance into Euripides’ quote: Money is the wise man’s religion.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary comes in many different forms: as a retreat–a place one goes for guidance and inspiration; as a house of worship–a place to seek spiritual healing and nourishment; and as a refuge–a place to escape misuse or abuse. Within 24 hours, Leah and I managed to come across all three in a small corner of mid-western America.

For those searching for faith-based education, Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK has a campus fingerprint: Make No Little Plans Here

Make No Little Plans Here

The university’s holistic approach feeds the spirit, mind, and body.

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The university’s futuristic and mid-century modern architecture attributed to Frank Wallace is best appreciated from the flying saucer,

prayer tower

that also passes for an observation deck,

ORU observation deck

and reflection gallery.

OR advice

It’s gold-tinted, anti-glare windows colorize the outward views in a peculiar warm bath of Genesis green.

classroom tower

classroom building

auditorium

campus green

And while folded hands may symbolize a deep connection between God and Christianity,

hands of God

…any university coed would easily characterize the statue as a student praying to pass.



Architecture on a higher plane/plain can be found nearby, in the hills of the Ozarks. While no less spiritual in nature, the Thorncrown Chapel is rooted in nature.

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An elaborate composition of wooden trusses embracing 425 windows gives an ethereal nod to a scripture and proverb mash-up of not casting the first stone in glass houses.

From the hillside, the chapel seemingly disappears among the flora,

camouflage

and when juxtaposed to the outdoors, the chapel’s transparency is flaunted by its six thousand square feet of glass.

looking outside in

However, the chapel’s connection to nature shines brighter from within the polished maplewood doors,

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where an arboretum of beams reaching forty-eight feet to the clouds…

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can be contemplated and photographed from a distant pew. (Photography is allowed, but only from a sitting position.)

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But Thorncrown Chapel is more than a beautiful building. It’s a celebration of Jim Reed’s spirit and vision, and a noble tribute to the glory of his resignation to a higher power.



Lastly, eleven miles south, on the edge of Eureka Springs, AK, Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge provides shelter and care to abandoned, abused, and neglected wildcats, whose owners have miscalculated the cost and trouble of raising and breeding them in captivity.

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Currently, Turpentine Creek has become a haven to 100 lions, tigers, ligers, and cougars like Nala and Brody.

Natural habitats built with benefactor dollars provide asylum to big cats,

2 tiger habitat

who are now free to live out their lives in a protected environment,

2 tigers

while being offered preventative and emergency medical treatment.

tiger repose

These cats cannot be released into the wild,

tiger habitat

as they’ve lost their ability to fend and defend after being declawed by their owners,

cougar gnawing on cardboard tubing

who in their ignorance and arrogance wished to make them less dangerous to handle as one-time pets.

white tiger

Nevertheless, a cadre of volunteers assists a small staff in feeding, cleaning, examining, and behavior-modifying these beasts. Thus, providing each big cat with a humane existence.

Day-to-day operations are assisted through visitor admissions, gift shop sales, and donations by large corporations like Tyson, who feeds the herd 300,000 lbs. of chicken every year.



Sanctuaries of thought, redemption, and protection offer safe places to learn, to reflect, and retire to. Remove anyone of them, and society faces a danger of turning in on itself, further sewing the sleeves of divisiveness.

Better still, offering asylum to the millions of struggling homeless across the country, and persecuted refugees around the world would improve their safety and dignity, and allow more of humanity to participate in their own recovery.