Visit My Beautiful Arkansas: Thorncrown Chapel

Updated on May 7, 2018
MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers has been a professional writer/editor for all of her adult life. Before that, she was just a little girl storyteller.

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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.

Another View of the Glass Chapel
Another View of the Glass Chapel | Source

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.

The Chapel's Interior
The Chapel's Interior | Source
Shadowed View of Interior at Midday
Shadowed View of Interior at Midday | Source

Awesome Inside

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.

Royal Blue Pews
Royal Blue Pews | Source

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.

Enormous Boulders on Grounds
Enormous Boulders on Grounds | Source

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"

Take My Poll, Please

Would You Like To Visit Thorncrown Chapel?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Doris James-MizBejabbers

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      • MizBejabbers profile image
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        Doris James-MizBejabbers 16 hours ago

        Thank you for the compliments, Manatita. You really are a beautiful person. I really don't know why my husband didn't want to go in. He has never wanted to accompany me on pilgrimages or tours into buildings. It may have been the PTSD because there were at least a dozen people inside. I really think it was because he, like me, grew up in the rural Ozarks and he really enjoys the peace and tranquility of the outdoors. He walked around it and took it in from every outside angle, and enjoyed the visit. Thank you so much for your comment. This hub was doing very well until it was moved to a niche site, now it gets very little traffic.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 28 hours ago from london

        A beautiful write! Like Peggy, you do an excellent service for the Tourist Industry. Charge a fee!

        I'm considering saying how beautiful I am. Would you like a commission? Ha ha. Sweet chuckles.

        The Chapel is extremely exquisite! So here's my question. Why didn't your husband go in? Is it the PSTD? It seemed not only empty but extremely beautiful and sacred

        Anyway , it was a brilliant piece of writing. Much Peace!I

      • MizBejabbers profile image
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        Doris James-MizBejabbers 12 days ago

        Jo, it is a great place to visit because it is so unusual. People really underestimate our state. I hope you do visit someday. You don't live very far away. My husband's paternal family is from the Memphis area just three hours away from our home in North Little Rock.Thank you for reading and commenting.

      • jo miller profile image

        Jo Miller 12 days ago from Tennessee

        I'm not so far from Arkansas, Doris, but have spent very little time in that state. Mostly just passing through while traveling to other locations. This looks like a good place to start.

        Lovely article.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
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        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Chitrangada, at one time my husband and I dreamed of moving back to this beautiful part of our childhoods, but then his health intervened, and we decided to stay near good medical facilities. Thank you for reading and your very nice comment.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 2 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

        A beautiful and well written article, about this wonderful chapel. I love the surroundings, the lush greens all around it, and the architecture. Surely a must visit place.

        Thanks for sharing the details!

      • MizBejabbers profile image
        Author

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Larry, you are not too far away. Maybe one day you can swing by and see it, if you haven't already. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
        Author

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Elijah, thank you Dear Heart for the compliment. I did spend a couple of years as a museum tour guide when I was young. Maybe someday you can enjoy it in person. It is so beautiful and serene, I think you would enjoy it.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
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        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Jackie, I love "Crying in the chapel" but this is a place of happiness. I've always loved "Mansion Over the Hilltop," and we sang it a lot in school and church when I was a child. Don't get me wrong, I love Elvis but his version is not my favorite. I really love the old rousing gospel renditions. It's such a happy song when done right. Yes, this is a very special chapel. I thought it was just a public building, but when I found out that it is family owned and a son of the family is the minister, it made it more special. Thanks for your kind words, girlfriend.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
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        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Bill. I want to thank you because you gave me the idea for this article and hopefully some others that I plan to write. Remember two or three years ago when you suggested that we write some travelogues? I thought it was a capital idea, but I didn't have time to write any until after I retired. Thank you for your kind words, my friend.

        It's been a great day, 80s and sunshine, but tonight the rain is coming in. We just got our garden planted about six weeks too late, so I welcome the rain. Thanks again.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
        Author

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Thank you, John. I wish you could come visit my beautiful home state and Thorncrown, too.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 2 weeks ago from Oklahoma

        A stunning structure.

      • The0NatureBoy profile image

        Elijah A Alexander Jr 2 weeks ago from Washington DC

        Thank you, tour guide Doris, I really enjoyed your photos and pointing out the magnificent work of art.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 2 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

        It is a stunningly beautiful chapel surrounded by nature. I am so happy to have been able to visit it in person while on vacation many years ago.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 2 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

        I love chapels, just the name is inspiring and then to find something this special...well.

        I thought your Elvis song would be crying in the chapel, but I had not heard this one, so thanks!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        I doubt I'll ever get there, MizB, unless I am famous and go on a book-signing tour, but that chapel is stunning. Thank you for taking me with you. That is one place I could find peace and contemplation.

        Happy Sunday my friend!

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 2 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Thorncrown Chapel is a stunningly beautiful piece of architecture in a wonderful setting. This is the type of place I would really love to visit. Thank you so much for sharing this MizB. Beautiful article.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
        Author

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Mary, I love that about it, too. I'm sure that's why Fay Jones was chosen as the designer and architect. A person could almost walk by it and miss it, if he didn't fall off the side of the mountain, that is. I don't know how they chose the name for the chapel unless it is a play on words of "a crown of thorns." When researching it, I was surprised to find that it was a Christian chapel. Even after I visited it, I thought it was secular, not just nondenominational. Thanks for your comment.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
        Author

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Flourish, Eureka Springs is an unusual place inhabited by unusual people. It has been the home of artist's and writer's colonies for many years. (Remember the writer Crescent Dragonwagon? She ran a writer's colony and now owns a B&B there.) I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling that Mr. Reed is one of those creative souls. His son was the minister, and I think he still is. I think it is wonderful that the Reed family has chosen to share this beautiful place with the public.

        I think the guy at the desk serves a two-fold purpose: receptionist and security guard. Glad you enjoyed my description. Thank you for reading and commenting.

      • MizBejabbers profile image
        Author

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 weeks ago

        Actually, Nikki, I guess that I didn't make it clear when I said it was on the Register of Historic Places. It was only 20 years old when it was put on the register. I think the unusual design and the fact that E. Fay Jones was rather famous made it eligible despite its young age. The chapel is less than 40 years old. I'm so glad you like it, too, and I hope you get to visit it someday. Thanks for your comment.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 2 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        What I like with this Chapel is that it's designed to blen in with its environment. I would love to see this Chapel. How they chose the name is a puzzle to me.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 2 weeks ago from USA

        How beautiful! One would never anticipate a structure like this in this middle of the woods, especially relatively unmarked. I liked your description of the volunteer at the visitor’s desk.

      • nikkikhan10 profile image

        Nikki Khan 2 weeks ago from London

        I fell in love with this place, what a wonderful chapel to visit, and it doesn’t really seem like been built a long time ago.The design and architecture of those glasses is so contemporary and modern.

        I’ve definitely put it on my bucket list to visit and admire the beauty of this ancient place.

        Thanks for sharing with us dear, I just loved the pictures Doris.

        Excellent work!

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