Church Hopping: Chapel of the Holy Cross - Sedona, AZ

Location: Sedona, Arizona
Website: http://www.chapeloftheholycross.com/
Architect: Marguerite Brunswig Staude
Built: April 1956

History: The chapel was finished in 1956, completed in 18 months at a cost of $300k. Architect Marguerite Brunswig Staude was inspired by the Empire State Building, the idea of the skyscraper as a testament to God. Frank Lloyd Wright, one of Staude's teachers, was taken with her sketches and built an archtectural model for the city of Budapest, Hungary. Unfortunately, World War II rendered that option impossible.

At her ranch in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona, Staude felt the beautiful red stone canyon cried out for a uniquely contemporary, American shrine. The land where the shrine was built was government property, and required "practically an act of Congress" to permit building. Under a recommendation from Senator Barry Goldwater, ground was broken in April 1955 and finished a year later.

Exterior Design: Here's where, if I knew anything about architecture like Stephanie, I would regale you with actual facts.

Instead, I'll explain the building like an idiot. It looks like a three ring binder, splayed open just a bit and standing on two boulders. Plus, there's a cross in the middle.

Interior Design: The towering concrete walls and windows on the north and south ends direct your eyes skyward. The floor, meanwhile, is packed from back to front with typical Catholic accoutrements. Without the spacious and rising ceiling, it would feel cluttered. The south-facing windows are structured with an enormous cross, and constant Arizona sun casts a cross shadow across the chapel during the day. The altar is all right angles, punctuated by wrought-iron branches in the crucifix, altar table and candelabras.

Thoughts: What's most striking about the Chapel is how it symbolizes how far man falls short of God. Almost every aspect of the chapel, from the front exterior views to the contemplative and spacious interior, is awe-inspiring in its simplicity and beauty. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a testament to God through modern architecture, especially in the face of how ugly modern churches can be.

And yet, outside, the chapel is dwarfed by red stone cliffs painted by sun, the green valley winding its way through. As good an attempt as the Chapel may be, it's immediately clear how feeble its beauty in the face of God's creation.

Nitpicks: Remember how I italicized "Almost" a couple paragraphs above?

There are tapestries hanging on the Chapel's massive east and west walls. Two of the tapestries, of Biblical characters (I'm fairly sure one was Moses), are awesome. The others, and there are four of them, look like tacky Baptist posters, with pastel purple and yellow smears. Say what you will about Catholics...they have taste when it comes to decorating churches. How these tapestries found their way in among ancient statues of Michael the Archangel, I'll never know. (Click photo for a better view.)


  1. My wife and some friends drove by this church a few years back on a road trip and your post practically mirrors the conversation that took place in that car. I was hiking this past weekend in New Mexico and kept thinking why don't we just worship in the breathtaking cathedrals God has already provided for us. Great post!!

  2. I actually rather like your description of the exterior design. It's easier to understand than a bunch of architectural jargon.

  3. Wasn't this the church that had a huge corpus (body of Christ) on the cross that looked skeletal? I saw it in the 60's and it left a lasting impression. The sculpture was to show the pain/horror that Jesus went through on the cross. Is that still there?