Visit My Beautiful Arkansas: Thorncrown Chapel
An Enchanting Chapel Hidden in the Woods
Thorncrown Chapel is a crystal cathedral hidden in the woods a few miles from Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I had heard so much about this unique place, and I wanted very much to see it for myself. Thorncrown Chapel was definitely worth the time and effort to make the trip to the woods.
It is small by most church standards, but not tiny. This glass house of worship was commissioned by a retired school teacher, Jim Reed, originally from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Reed arranged the financing and selected architect E. Fay Jones to build the chapel of his dreams on property on which had built a home and lived. Architect E. Fay Jones had been an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, and he was already a world-class architect in his own right when hired by Reed. Jones designed the building, but the duo almost scrapped the plans when the money ran out. Reed was able to obtain more financing, which he attributed to God, and the building was completed in 1980. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, most of Jones’s buildings are of a modern prairie style. Similarly, Thorncrown Chapel exhibits an earthy but ethereal quality of its own. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, a rare (if not the first) acceptance of a building only 20 years old.
Fulfilling a Dream
For years I had heard so much about the glass chapel in the woods and seen photos of weddings held within its beautiful setting. Thorncrown was definitely on my bucket list, and then I got the perfect excuse to visit. My husband, Larry, and I made the trip to Eureka Springs to attend the May wedding of a friend’s daughter. The wedding was a large garden affair, too large for the chapel, which contains approximately two dozen pews, and instead was held at another famous venue, the Crescent Hotel. Our friend’s wedding took place in the afternoon, which gave us the perfect opportunity to visit Thorncrown the next morning before we started for home.
Having a GPS Is Helpful
Eureka Springs is a beautiful small city any time of the year, but it is most appealing in the springtime. The chapel’s location is described by local residents as “West of town on Highway 62 and easy to find." Just turn at the sign, or so they say. This visit was not our first visit to Eureka Springs, but we had never been to Thorncrown. Sounds like a poor excuse, but on a previous trip to Eureka Springs, we had not been able to locate it. The directions we received from a local were not accurate, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, the place is difficult to find even with good directions. That trip was before I bought a car with a GPS, so we were relying on those directions. We overshot the road that turns off Highway 62 by about five miles using her description. We turned around and retraced our route, but still too far away, we finally gave up.
The chapel is about three miles from town, and the narrow road leading up to it is marked by a sign too small for a tourist to readily find. I nearly missed the turnoff again, but fortunately, Larry was on the alert and spotted the sign. We turned right and drove up a wooded lane that dead-ended about a mile at the parking lot of the chapel. At first, we could not see the chapel because the view was blocked by the trees. The woodsy setting is natural, uncluttered by man's landscaping.
We parked and walked up the path toward the building. As the chapel came into view, the scene was breathtaking. The glass glistened in the rays of the sunshine admitted between the branches of the trees. A sky of pale azure peaked through the leaves, which promoted a dappled effect. Within this woodland scene, the chapel is etheric, and the energies are magnificent. I felt overjoyed. The old hymn “Mansion Over the Hilltop” immediately came to mind.
Throncrown Chapel is 48 feet tall and comprises 425 windows. In fact, Thorncrown is composed of more than 6,000 sq. ft. of glass between the members of its wood frame. Situated on flagstone floors, it sits on top of 100 tons of native stone. When we arrived at the door, Larry decided to stay outside for reasons unbeknownst to me. He has PTSD, but there is nothing confining about this place.
I entered alone through the magnificent wooden double doors into a small entry area. To the left a man sat reading a book at a desk. He looked up and poked the guest book at me and said to sign it. I did not believe it was a request. I would describe him as cordial, but not particularly friendly. Later when reading the reviews on Thorncrown’s website, one guest stated that the doorman was unfriendly and didn’t seem to care about the visitors. I did not get this impression of him. He was neither a bubbly docent nor a WalMart greeter; he had the bearing of retired military or a retired law enforcement officer. I vote for the latter.
I signed the guestbook, and he went back to reading his book. The time was midmorning, and a few people were sitting spaced out among the pews. Depending upon where one sat, the inside was either shaded or very sunny. It was not the day for a regular worship service, so I presumed them to be fellow tourists. Several turned and glanced my way. I smiled at them and sat down on a pew about a quarter of the way down the single aisle. I found the pew to be quite comfortable.
Blue Padded Pews
The pews had none of the old cathedral look, but complemented the modernistic style of the building in their own contemporary fashion, made of light-colored wood, probably white oak or birch, with the seat portions upholstered in royal blue. In the sanctuary, lights framed in wood hung on the frame beside each pew. On each light fixture, a long cross cutout in the center of the wooden panel allowed the light to shine through. The light would be needed for night weddings and events, but it provided a nice decorative touch in the daytime. A dais was located at the far end. I admired the open lattice work of the rafters overhead as I sat. I took advantage of the peace and serenity and meditated for about 15 or 20 minutes. Afterward I quietly took some photos of the inside as I noticed other tourists doing. After drinking in the beauty, I rejoined Larry outside.
We walked around the hillside of the chapel and admired the natural beauty of the moss-covered boulders and the woodland plants. I realized then how much I missed my beautiful Ozarks since leaving them so many years ago. I took more photos.
Open to the Public
I hope you have enjoyed my little tour of Thorncrown Chapel. The chapel is open to visitors on the following schedule:
April – October from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
March and December -- from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
January and February – Closed
Religious services are held at the chapel on Sundays from April through October at 9:00 am and 11:00 am. Only one service is held starting at 11:00 am in November through the third week in December. The services are nondenominational and everyone is welcome. The chapel does not charge an admission fee, but a donation box sits on the admission desk.
The chapel is a very popular place for weddings and other special events. People planning to visit Thorncrown might want to call ahead because the chapel sometimes closes in early afternoons for those events. Tour groups and church groups planning to visit are not required to make reservations. However, they also might want to call ahead to make sure the chapel is open during their selected time, especially during weather that might turn inclement. Remember these are the Ozark Mountains, and driving the hills during icy or stormy weather is dangerous and sometimes impossible.
For more information, visit their website: https://www.thorncrown.com/services.html
"Mansion Over the Hilltop"
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© 2018 Doris James-MizBejabbers