'Thorncrown' Chapel in Arkansas: Nature-worship & Christianity - Uneasy Bedfellows

Elizabeth Fletcher

Abstract


'Thorncrown' Chapel, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, USA, was designed and built by the internationally acclaimed American architect, E Fay Jones. Fay Jones had been commissioned by a well-to-do native of Arkansas, James Reed, to build an interdenominational chapel on eight acres of land in the hills of the Ozark Mountains. He started his commission with a number of guiding principles:
• that architecture ought to distil and express people's feelings, in this case religious feelings, in the way that poetry distils language;
• that it was possible to build a chapel which would be suitable for people of all denominations (and I use that word in its widest sense) to meditate and worship in; and
• that the untouched beauty of the site, a pristine woodland on the side of a mountain, enclosed by trees and sky, ought to be tampered with as little as possible.

The chapel he designed is one of the most admired religious buildings in the United States of America. It first came to my attention when Tone Wheeler, of the School of Architecture at Sydney University, showed me pictures of it, in the book about Fay Jones published by The American Institute of Architects Press. I had decided to photograph significant religious buildings along the east coast of the United States, as part of an investigation I was doing into the connection between American history and culture on the one hand, and religious architecture on the other. I had been looking for examples of outstanding modem church buildings; Tone felt it essential that I see and photograph Thorncrown.

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