Had it not been for World War II, this historic landmark church would overlook the Danube River in Budapest.
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, is what happens when handing a vision and mission to architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a setting in red rock country and money.
This history comes from the Catholic Church’s website for the Chapel and a calligraphed story, “How the Chapel Came into Being,” by its visionary founder, Marguerite Brunswig Staude. From the vision in 1932 to its dedication 25 years later, a personal obsession turned her dream into one of America’s most stunning architectural masterpieces.
Originally converted from concept to design by Lloyd Wright, the chapel is built in the sandstone cliffs southeast of Uptown Sedona. It’s visited by thousands every season, every year. The chapel is open daily and serves Mass on Sundays.
Staude says, “The first conception came to me in 1932. I was in New York watching the newly completed Empire State Building. When viewed from a certain angle, a cross seemed to expose itself through the very core of the structure.”
A sculptor, Staude envisioned a cruciform church in both plan and elevation. She wanted to pioneer a design for a church that would express the bold, contemporary styling we call “Art Deco.” She sketched the vision that architect Frank Lloyd Wright saw. Struck by the idea, the two partnered on interpretation.
Lloyd Wright built the first model with an articulated cross, glass and perforated stone filling an entire city block. In 1937, the accepted plan was to be constructed on the Danube. Before construction began, World War II began, and the project was halted.
“Should not we in America also have a national shrine where God can be worshipped as a contemporary?” Staude wrote. “And would this not bring him closer to each and every one of us?”
Owning a ranch in Oak Creek Canyon, Staude, with architects Anshen and Allen, scoured the red rock countryside until finding a twin hoodoo with a spur large enough to hold the chapel. The church’s site was public land, and it took an act of Congress led by Sen. Barry Goldwater to transfer the land for the chapel and approve its building permit. The 250-foot (76m) elevation above the lower terrace holds the church and sits at the base of a 1,000-foot (305m) cliff.
“It is now a monolith with the Christian connotation of the one cross…organic to the structure,” Staude wrote.
With final plans completed in 1953, William Simpson Construction Company broke ground in April 1955 and completed the chapel one year later.
“The chapel was built as a memorial to my father and mother, Lucien and Marguerite Brunswig,” she said in her calligraphic history. “As an artist, this is my offering…”Ad Magorem Dei Gloria”…in answer to the One who in order to save us stretched out His arms on the cross.”
The chapel features a massive golden statue of Jesus on the Cross, made not of the traditionally rough-hewn timber but the smoothed wood of a once-living tree.
Chapel of the Holy Cross is located at the east end of Chapel Road in southeast Sedona. There is a narrow parking area and the chapel keepers run golf carts to take visitors up the steep drive to the chapel. A gift shop is on the lower level.
Recreation vehicles are not permitted in the parking area. Having watched a pair whose drivers either had trouble reading or thought the sign didn’t apply to their Class Bs—it does—there’s a good reason not to enter with an oversize vehicle. RV parking is at the stop sign to the south (right).
Story by Eric Jay Toll