The next in an occasional series of travelogue/photo essays on seeing and experiencing intersections of faith, history and culture — on seeing new and old communities of faith.
Sue and I just returned from a week in Sedona, Arizona, celebrating our 31st anniversary surrounded by some of God’s very best handiwork. Located in Arizona’s high desert country under the southwestern rim of the Colorado Plateau, Sedona is situated at the mouth of spectacular Oak Creek Canyon and surrounded by massive red-rock formations. It was a glorious week of rest and walking the area’s myriad hiking trails that drew us right up to the bases of the rock formations with names like Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte and Boynton Canyon.
But located between Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek is one of the region’s manmade (and woman-designed!) wonders: The Chapel of the Holy Cross. We had been through here once before when the kids were…well…kids. We had stopped at the chapel then, too, but this time we had more time to savor the beauty of the chapel and its setting, and even experience a beautifully simple Taize ecumenical prayer service.
Although operated by the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and St. John Vianney Parish of Sedona (our parish home for the week), the church is open to all and is not an operating Catholic church. The story behind its design and creation is the story of one artist’s vision, a nagging dream and her desire to find the spirit of Christ in her art.
Marguerite Brunswig Staude first had the idea for a cruciform-shaped church in 1932 while viewing the newly constructed Empire State Building. Years later, she wrote, “When viewed from a certain angle a cross seemed to impose itself through the very core of the structure. What an idea for a church! For days it haunted and obsessed me, insisting on taking shape.”
Later she sketched the church, which she showed to her teacher. That happened to be a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright. He liked the idea and together they interpreted her dream, which they initially envisioned would be built in Budapest on one of the hills overlooking the Danube. World War II put an end to that idea. The idea lay dormant for many years.
In the 1950s, Staude owned a ranch in Oak Creek Canyon, and she wrote that the area around her home seemed to be “calling for the existence of a shrine where God can be worshipped as a contemporary” and where God could be “brought closer to each and everyone of us.” Although much smaller in scale than her original vision, construction on the chapel began in 1955 on a 250-foot-high, twin-pinnacled spur, jutting out of a thousand-foot rock wall, and was completed a year later.
“Just as the soul inhabits a human frame, and the house is built to shelter that frame, it is the mission of the church to shelter and inspire both the soul and body,” she once wrote. “It therefore should not only be a monument to faith, but a spiritual fortress so charged with God that it spurs man’s spirit Godward!
“As an artist, this is my offering,” she said. “Ad Majorem Dei,” (for the glory of God) in answer to the One who in order to save us stretched out his arms on the cross.”