Driving along the winding mountain roads around Eureka Springs, we passed the wooded entrance to Crownthorn Chapel. Intrigued, I googled the location and discovered one of the most beautiful churches, a glass chapel in the woods and knew I could not leave without seeing it for myself.
Parking, we walked the stone path through the towering trees along a rock bluff.
Ahead, the chapel began to come into view, stunning against the woods, breathtaking in it’s prayerful solitude.
Stepping inside, we were welcomed with soft music. We sat within the pews, taking in it’s wonder and whispering a quiet prayer.
While it’s not the only glass chapel hidden in the forests of Arkansas; in fact, it’s only one of three! All were designed by famed architect E. Fay Jones, a native of Arkansas. It should come as no surprise that Jones was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright– they both employ a style that not only draws inspiration from nature but blends seamlessly into natural surroundings.
Upon our departure, I glimpsed a second structure that had been hidden among the trees, a second structure, similar to the first but for it’s high steeple and position above the side of a steep buff.
This was the dream of Jim Reed, a retired school teacher who purchased the land to build his forever home. Jim wasn’t the only one to admire this spot as people would often wander to his hone to get a better view of the beautiful Ozark mountains. Instead of fencing them out, Jim decided to invite them in!
Reed wasn’t a particularly religious man, according to a brief history written by his son and Thorncrown pastor, Doug Reed.
His son writes:
He decided he and his wife should build a glass chapel in the woods to inspire their visitors.”
Though [Jim] was alone, he felt like someone was gently pushing him, as if to say, “Walk this way!” When Jim reached Thorncrown’s current site, the urging stopped. He looked around. Before him was what looked like a natural stone altar. To his right stood majestic rock bluffs and to his left was a beautiful wooded setting. There was no question that this was the spot.
When funds began running out, Reed considered quitting the project. His son describes what happened next:
“Jim stepped out one evening to take what he thought would be one last walk down to his half-finished dream. He told himself that he would allow himself one final look and never return. Questions filled his mind: ‘Why would God do this to someone who is trying to serve Him?’ ‘Why would the Lord give a person a great idea and then abandon him?’
Then, just as Jim was about to leave his dream behind, he did something he had never done before. On the still incomplete altar, he fell on his knees and he prayed. And though Jim had prayed before, it was never on his knees and never like this. He wept and cried, and in the midst of his travail, he found he was not alone.”
Reed’s son characterizes the moment as a “revelation” that ultimately gave him the strength to move forward with the project.
Reed realized, his son writes, that “he had a relationship with Christ that would change his life.” Three days later, Reed received a loan that was enough to cover the chapel’s final expenses.
Nestled in a woodland setting, Thorncrown Chapel rises forty-eight feet into the Ozark sky. This magnificent wooden structure contains 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. It sits atop over 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone, making it blend perfectly with its setting. The chapel’s simple design and majestic beauty combine to make it what critics have called “one of the finest religious spaces of modern times.”
Since the chapel opened in 1980, over six million people have visited this woodland sanctuary. Designed by renowned architect E. Fay Jones, Thorncrown has won numerous architectural awards such as the American Institute of Architects’ Design of the Year Award for 1981 and AIA’s prestigious 25 Year Award. Recently, members of the American Institute of Architects placed Thorncrown Chapel fourth on its list of the top buildings of the twentieth century.
Thorncrown Chapel is located on Highway 62 West just outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted. We have ample parking for buses and RVs. So, while in the Ozarks, stop by what many have called one of the most beautiful and inspiring chapels in the world.
Sunday services are held at 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM April through October. November through the third week in December we have one Sunday service at 11:00 AM. Our services last approximately one hour and include inspiring music and biblically based preaching. All people are welcome.