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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, Arizona

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, Arizona                                             

The chapel is not equally impressive at
night but still striking in its soaring presence
I could kick myself now for having missed it. Last April, as my wife and I were driving south on I-17 out of Flagstaff toward Phoenix, we passed Sedona, Arizona, a small tourist/retirement city some ten miles or so off the Interstate. In doing so, we also passed up the chance to see one of the most remarkable architectural landmarks in the Southwest, perhaps the entire country, the Chapel of the Holy Cross. That's what I get for not doing my homework as to places to go and things to see before leaving home. The little side trip would hardly have taken more than an hour. But, we were nearing our destination and our son and his family in Phoenix (two hours or so south) so we weren't really in the mood for side trips. It's a Catholic church and I'm Protestant, but hey, I can still light a candle and say a prayer when inspired by this kind of spiritual beauty.
The desert landscape of the area dwarfs the chapel. Sedona is off to the far left.
In seeing photos of the chapel such as the one at the top, the Arizona manmade wonder (one of seven)appears pretty impressive. It's only when seen against the grand sweep of the desert landscape (above) that one gets a feel for the God-made wonder in which it resides (the tiny white dot on the left). I'm used to writing that some such landmark has a long and colorful history. This one doesn't. Completed in 1956, meaning it's less than sixty years old; and in its timeless, minimalist simplicity, looks to be far less than that. Moreover, it almost didn't get least not in Arizona. The inspiration for the architectural work of art is somewhat strange--the Empire State Building--yes, the one in New York City. Alright, there is a slight resemblance, but very slight.

From the entry side (the terms front and back are useless here), the chapel is simple,
understated, and fairly unimpressive, far and away overwhelmed by the view.
Marguerite Brunswig Staude
The inspiration dates back to 1932 and a local rancher and sculptor, Marguerite Brunswig Staude. She originally had in mind to build the chapel in her native Hungary, in Budapest. She enlisted the help of Lloyd Wright, the son of architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to help pull it off. The only problem was, it's pretty hard to build a new church when all around it, old churches are being brought to rubble by the bombs of WW II. So instead, the wealthy heiress decided to build her vision of the "Empire State Building Chapel," near her hometown of Sedona. She hired architects, Richard Hein as project architect, the design executed by architect, August K. Strotz, both of the firm Anshen and Allen. The chapel was to be built on Coconino National Forest land so Mrs. Staude turned to her senator, Barry Goldwater, for a Special-Use Permit. With the paperwork out of the way, construction began, the chapel being completed some eighteen months later at a cost of $300,000 ($2.5-million today).

The entry façade offers no hint as to the beauty inside and the view behind the altar.
With a view like this from the
pews, it might be hard to keep
one's mind on the homily.
Mrs. Staude got her money's worth. The following year (1957), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) gave her chapel its Award of Honor. Fifty years later, 2007, Arizonans voted the Chapel of the Holy Cross one of the Seven Manmade Wonders of Arizona. Lodged in such a magnificent setting, one might imagine a spectacular view of the sprawling desert landscape. Well, yes and no. If you gaze a far off, you see an impressive range of reddish and yellowish mountains (below). If, on the other hand, you look out and down, it's not hard to imagine where the chapel picked up its nickname, "Hollywood on the Rocks." Sprawling not more than a mile from the base of the chapel is one of several gated private estates, this particular one sprawling over several acres with its horrendous architecture, replete with lily pond, gazebos, four car garage, guard house and forecourt fountain (bottom). Seemingly God and man trying to outdo one another.

The view behind the altar.
Just down over the hill.


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