Chapel of the Holy Dove: Religion as Respite

Kendrick Park, AZ; September 23, 2010: Four days of serious cycling brought PACTour’s Grand Canyon expedition to Flagstaff, cultural center of northern Arizona. One more day of travel on US 180 would take the cyclists to the Grand Canyon where they would have two days to enjoy the wonders of this remarkable place.

The first eighteen miles were a steady climb until the highway reached the highest point of the thousand-mile tour: 8,046 feet. A short distance beyond the crest, they were met by one of PACTour’s trailers where they could get snacks and water for the next section of their journey. Most of the riders failed to see the Chapel of the Holy Dove, tucked into a wooded alcove across the highway and only two or three hundred feet on down the road.

This compact shrine was first constructed by Watson M. Lacy, MD, and his wife Ruth in 1961 as a place of respite from his medical practice at the Grand Canyon. And respite it does provide because of its setting in a tranquil place, free from society’s urgent intensity. Oriented toward the San Francisco Peaks, the Chapel of the Holy Dove calls to mind Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The chapel’s name comes from Matthew 3:16, which describes the Spirit of God descending  like a dove and alighting on Jesus at the time of his baptism. Although the chapel is a freestanding religious space, open to a wide range of spiritual understanding, its shape, furnishings, and descriptive literature indicate that it is founded on classic Christian ideas.

At an earlier time, scraps of paper were posted helter-skelter on the low walls and A-frame roofing members. They expressed the yearnings and anxieties that visitors brought with them, and were placed in this prayerful space in the hope that the people tarrying here could receive some inner sense of resolution to the burdens and joys of life. Today, this aspect of the chapel’s life is cared for more circumspectly. A drop box provides a place for these requests to be deposited, and the promise is given that they will be prayed for.

This little church serves as a wedding chapel; according to a sign posted inside, four would be celebrated during October 2010.

One reason why the Chapel of the Holy Dove can be a place of respite is that it is so fully fixed on only one of the functions of a church. It provides a place where people can contemplate the divine reality by gazing out upon one of its sublime manifestations in the natural world. Ironically, this chapel sets aside entirely the very purpose of the Spirit’s anointing as described in Matthew, which was to commission Jesus for his active ministry of preaching and healing, a ministry that led him to confront the political and religious establishment of his time and would lead to his martyrdom while still a young man.

A campfire on March 9, 1999, destroyed all but the stonewalls of the original building. With permission from the Lacy family and public support from the wider Flagstaff community, Christen McCracken, a student at Northern Arizona University, generated funding to insure the chapel’s reconstruction. Since its rebuilding in 2000, the Chapel of the Holy Dove continues to be a place where travelers can experience in a few moments of poignant awareness the living Spirit that animates—gives life—to the grandeur of the world through which they journey.

Note: Several websites describe the Chapel of the Holy Dove and provide more images. For historical information, click here. For images of the chapel in the winter, click here. A brief video can be accessed here. Note, however, that it is located on US 180. It shows the chapel with scraps of paper affixed to walls and ceiling. This column is being published several days after the date when the chapel was visited. Additional columns may be published in the future that are based on stops made by the Grand Canyon Tour and they will be dated according to the Tour schedule.


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2 Responses to Chapel of the Holy Dove: Religion as Respite

  1. Tim and Lori says:

    How would we go about being married in this chapel?
    Any leads will be appreciated.

    • A notice posted in the chapel gave a phone number. I didn’t write it down and would start by doing a google search to find a contact number. My impression was that there is a straightforward process for scheduling the chapel and a way of making other arrangements. Nothing was said on the notice about costs, and I have no idea about what they might be. It is a beautiful and spiritually alive site and a wedding there would be beautiful.

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