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article imagePhoto Essay: Notable churches across America Special

By Kay Mathews     Dec 8, 2012 in Religion
The five churches highlighted here have distinctive features, including historical significance, unique architectural designs, and stories of miracles.
With the Christmas holiday quickly approaching, it seems appropriate to focus attention on houses of worship. When thinking of churches in the United States, it is often the more well-known churches that first come to people's minds, including two located in New York City: St. Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity Wall Street, where Federalists John Jay and Alexander Hamilton were members and Pres. George Washington worshiped.
Two churches in Washington, D.C. are also quite famous. Called "America's Catholic Church," the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is "the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States and North America, and is one of the ten largest churches in the world." Washington National Cathedral, which "is called to serve as the spiritual home for the nation," has been the site of funeral and memorial services for 21 U.S. presidents, and the tomb of America's 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, is located there. Wilson is the only U.S. president buried in Washington, D.C.
However, when thinking in terms of their place in America's history, or the designs of the buildings themselves, there are many churches across the United States that are noteworthy. Five of them are highlighted below.
Charleston, South Carolina
St. Philip's Episcopal Church is located in Charleston, S.C. and was founded in 1680. St. Philip's was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Parks Service, which states, "Built in 1836 (spire completed in 1850), this stuccoed brick church features an imposing tower designed in the Wren-Gibbs tradition. Three Tuscan pedimented porticoes contribute to this design to make a building of the highest quality and sophistication." St. Philip's is "the oldest Anglican congregation south of Virginia."
St. Philip s Episcopal Church  view down Church Street.  Charleston  S.C.
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, view down Church Street. Charleston, S.C.
Altar at St. Philip s Episcopal Church.  Charleston  S.C.
Altar at St. Philip's Episcopal Church. Charleston, S.C.
Savannah, Georgia
First African Baptist Church located in Savannah, Ga. is, according to the church, "'The Oldest Black Church In North America' Constituted December 1777." On Dec. 9, the church celebrated its 235th anniversary.
First African Baptist Church was a stop along the Underground Railroad, which, according to PBS, was "a vast network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada...it effectively moved hundreds of slaves northward each year -- according to one estimate, the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850."
As stated by First African Baptist Church, the "church was a safe house for slaves" and "Beneath the lower auditorium floor is another finished subfloor which is known as the 'Underground Railroad'. There is 4ft of height between both floors. The entrance to the Underground Railroad remains unknown. After leaving our tunnel, slaves would try to make their way as far north as possible. There are no records as to who went through the tunnel or how many."
First African Baptist Church.  Savannah  Ga.
First African Baptist Church. Savannah, Ga.
Bella Vista, Arkansas
One of the most famous "sacred structures" in Arkansas is the Thorncrown Chapel designed by renown architect E. Fay Jones. Jones, whose mentor was Frank Lloyd Wright, lived to see his Thorncrown Chapel, located in Eureka Springs, Ark., "voted the fourth-best building of the 20th century by the American Institute of Architects."
Located about 40 miles west of Thorncrown Chapel is another breathtaking chapel designed by Jones. The Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista, Ark. is nestled in the woods near Lake Norwood.
BeautifulBellaVista states, "It is not only the Chapel's lofty heights, or the massive wooden doors, or even the arches upon arches that gracefully flow above and below each other giving the impression of airy wonder...What is most impressive is that a building of this magnitude, designed and created by the mind of a man, could so seamlessly fit into the natural scene which envelopes it."
Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel.  Bella Vista  Ark.
Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel. Bella Vista, Ark.
Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel.  Bella Vista  Ark.
Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel. Bella Vista, Ark.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is home to many remarkable churches and two are featured here. The first is the Chapel of San Miguel, originally built in 1626, which makes it the oldest church in Santa Fe. Moreover, what makes the Chapel of San Miguel even more unique is that it is recognized as “the Oldest Church in the United States.”
According to writer Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten, authorities say "the altar screen is among the most splendid in the Southwest. It was painted by an anonymous Santero known as the Laguna Santero to accommodate both Mexican paintings on canvas and local bultos [a statue of Christ, a saint or the Virgin]." VanderPutten notes that among the paintings on the altar screen are "Saint Terisa of Avila (top left), Saint Michael (top center), and Saint Gertrude the Great (top right)" and "In the middle tier are images of Jesus Nazareno (center), Saint Francis (left) and Saint Louis IX, King of France (right)."
San Miguel Chapel.  Santa Fe  N.M.
San Miguel Chapel. Santa Fe, N.M.
Sanctuary and the Altar of the
Chapel of San Miguel.  Santa Fe  N.M.
Sanctuary and the Altar of the Chapel of San Miguel. Santa Fe, N.M.
The Altar of the Chapel of San Miguel.  Santa Fe  N.M.
The Altar of the Chapel of San Miguel. Santa Fe, N.M.
The second remarkable church is the Loretto Chapel, which stands at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail. This Gothic structure opened in 1878 after five years of construction. The history of the Chapel, however, dates back to 1610 when "the Spanish founded a town that is now known as Santa Fe, the capitol of the state of New Mexico."
The mysteries surrounding its "Miraculous Staircase" are detailed in the video above. Loretto Chapel also notes what led to the construction of the staircase, and the miracles that ensued. After the Sisters of the Chapel prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, for a stairway to access the choir loft, a carpenter appeared with a donkey. At the completion of the staircase, he disappeared without thanks or pay. Some say it was St. Joseph himself who constructed the staircase. "The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support," states Loretto Chapel. "Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including 'Unsolved Mysteries' and the television movie titled 'The Staircase.'"
Loretto Chapel.  Santa Fe  N.M.
Loretto Chapel. Santa Fe, N.M.
 Miraculous Staircase  in the Loretto Chapel.  Santa Fe  N.M.
"Miraculous Staircase" in the Loretto Chapel. Santa Fe, N.M.
These extraordinary houses of worship provide places to reflect, meditate, consider the reason for the season, and celebrate the Christmas holiday. In addition, these notable churches remind us of America's history and are monuments to amazing, perhaps miraculous, architectural designs.
More about Churches, San Miguel Chapel, First African Baptist Church, Loretto Chapel, St Philip's Episcopal Church
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