Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love on the rocks

New Mexico calls itself “the Land of Enchantment”, but it’s clear that my new home state of Arizona also has plenty of magic, and it’s not limited to the Grand Canyon, which is the 2nd most visited National Park in America (the Great Smoky Mountains are #1)

The first time that I saw Sedona, the sight of all those magnificent red rocks literally took my breath away. Since that first visit in 1998, we’ve been back to Sedona numerous times, due to the fact that the town has PLENTY of things to do and LOTS of gorgeous sights to see.

My favorite place in Sedona, though, is a local church that I’ve been to more times than I can count. Officially, it’s called the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and it’s owned by the Diocese of Phoenix. A local Catholic parish, St. John Vianney, maintains the property.

The chapel was commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who had been inspired in 1932 by the newly constructed Empire State Building to build a church that incorporated a cross in its design. After an attempt to do so in Europe (with the help of the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright), was aborted due to the outbreak of World War II, she decided to build the church in her native region.

It literally took an act of Congress (thanks to the late Senator Barry Goldwater) to get a special use permit to build the chapel on land of the Coconino National Forest. The chapel first opened its doors in 1956, and won an Award of Honor from the American Institute of Architects the following year. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior, and is landmark #19 of the City of Sedona.

The chapel gets thousands of visitors each month. If you page through the guest book just inside the front door, you’ll notice that visitors come here from all over the world, and it’s not unusual to see visitors from China mixed in with visitors from virtually every state in America. On our most recent visit, on June 7, we met 2 couples from Canada, but we also learned something about the chapel that I previously had been unaware of, and it’s related to love.

Marguerite Staude had the chapel build as a memorial to her parents, who were devout Catholics. As a result, it makes it one of the most dramatic show of love of parents that you’ll see anywhere.

Rather than limit the beauty of the place just to Catholics, Marguerite Staude declared that no services could be held at the chapel. It was, and is, still a place for people of all faiths to pray and reflect and find God through the beauty of art. Marguerite created a Madonna sculpture for the Chapel, and she created the Stations of the Cross of rough antique nails, Another stone carved sculpture, of the head of Jesus, sits to the rear of the Chapel. Until her death in 1988, Marguerite received letters from all over the world from visitors who had marveled at the beauty of the Chapel and the surrounding area, proof that she had achieved her goal to build a place that would "send the spirit onward."

As we were leaving the chapel last Saturday, a group of people standing near the entrance started clapping. We quickly learned that a couple standing outside the entrance, on the right side, had just become engaged. We congratulated Thomas and Ashley as we left, and I suddenly realized that their story needed to be told. According to one of the on site volunteers, there have been LOTS of couples that have become engaged on the grounds of the chapel. Although I have no way of proving it, I suspect that an awful lot of marriages that started out as “love on the rocks” are still going strong today.

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