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Chapel of the Holy Cross

Sedona, Arizona

2015 Q2

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The Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona is this edition’s print of a sketch by Ladd P. Ehlinger. This chapel is unique, elegant, and has become a shrine for Christian pilgrims of all faiths because of its beauty and unique setting in what I call God’s Architecture, and the fact that it complements its setting without competing. The chapel was the inspiration of and commissioned by a woman who was a sculptor, who also owned a vacation ranch in Sedona: Marguerite Brunswig Staude. Ms. Staude originally got the concept for chapel while studying in New York when the Empire State Building was being constructed in 1932. She observed that the cruciform shape of the plan got lost three dimensionally, and mused that this occurred in all historic Catholic churches, from the great cathedrals to simple chapels. They were a cross in plan, but it was not expressed in space and form. Initially, she played with the idea and enlisted Lloyd Wright, Architect, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, to design it.

At that time Ms. Staude was living in Los Angeles and the Bishop refused to participate in the project. An Order of nuns in Budapest heard about the project and enlisted her to have it built there. Wright proceeded with his design for the Budapest site. The Budapest project was abandoned with the outbreak of WWII. After the war, she decided to build the chapel in the U.S. rather than in Europe. Lloyd Wright refused to continue his participation further, probably because she had scaled back the size of the project. Ms. Staude searched for and interviewed many architectural firms, and selected the San Franciso architectural firm Anshen and Allen, with the Design Architect being August K. Strotz, and Richard Heim, Project Architect. The architects assisted Ms. Staude in selecting the site in Sedona, where she had a vacation ranch. The site selected was in the Coconino National Forest, and was essentially unbuildable without an Act of Congress. She prevailed upon the late Sen. Barry Goldwater to assist in obtaining a special-use permit.

With the land use permit in hand, Ms. Staude moved forward by selecting as General Contractor, the firm of Williams Simpson Construction Company, because of confidence in their capabilities after having built many pro- jects for the Staude’s family business. The Superintendent selected was Fred H. Coukos. The challenge for Coukos was daunting, as Sedona was very primitive in those days. There were no paved roads around the site nor many in Sedona, no ready-mixed concrete available - even the sand had to be imported to be used as a form separator. Coukos surmounted all of the challenges by moving his family to Sedona and literally living the project for eighteen months until it was finished in 1956. The total construction cost was $300,000, which seems modest even for 1955-56 considering the complexity of the site and the difficulties of the microenvironment. The Chapel of the Holy Cross was iven an Honor Award for design by the American Institute of Architects in 1957. Ms. Staude said: “Though Catholic in faith, as a work of art the Chapel has universal appeal. Its doors will ever be open to one and all regardless of creed, that God may come to life in the souls of all men and women and be a living reality.”

The chapel is of reinforced concrete construction, the aggregate of which was the local red rock crushed, which gives a slightly pink cast to the walls. The space is simple, as is the enveloping form. There is a basement, that is now used as a gift shop. There were many retaining walls that had to be built, along with numerous rock anchors to fully seat the structure. There is a parking lot just below the chapel with a winding exposed aggregate bridge ramp up to the chapel forecourt. The seating inside is composed of simple benches so as not to intrude upon the space. The Stations of the Cross are artfully composed of huge iron spikes on simple brass plates. There was initially a Corpus sculpture that hung on the cross structure of the glazed wall that elicited criticism for years from the clergy and art critics. Ms. Staude defended it, yet when it suddenly disappeared one day, she refused to discuss it or acknowledge that it was gone or had ever existed.

Sedona is famous for its red rock formations and the belief that there are four major “vortexes” (vortices?), which exude the energy of the earth. The site of the Chapel sits in an area of one purported vortex.

The authoress of the Chapel, Marguerite Brunswig Staude is as unique as her Chapel handiwork. She was born in New Orleans on November 9, 1899 to Lucien and Marguerite Brunswig, ne Wogan. Lucien was a French immigrant, who had achieved the American dream, becoming rich in the wholesale drug business. He had come to New Orleans to expand his business as a widower, met Marguerite’s mother, and married her. Ms. Wogan’s family had come to New Orleans after the slave revolt in Haiti, and assimilated into the local society. When young Marguerite was about six years old, Lucien moved the family to Los Angeles to expand again, much to his wife’s chagrin. She did not accept the move until he built her a French chateau to live in after a few years. Young Marguerite would always refer to her parents as “Madame et Monsieur” for her entire life.

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