Pretty Place

Recently, I came across this picture of Symmes Chapel aka “Pretty Place”. I think it is one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve seen, at least judging by the photo, and I can’t wait to visit it someday (very soon, I hope).

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Photo Credit: Dave Allen

 

I did a little research on Pretty Place and found that it is located in a very small portion of South Carolina that lies within the Blue Ridge Mountains. Constructed in 1941, it sits on the property of the YMCA Camp Greenville. Mr. Fred W. Symmes donated the chapel for the enjoyment of children who camp at the YMCA during the summer, but visitors are welcome to visit the chapel during daylight hours and the chapel can even be booked for special events like weddings.

 

If you’re interested in seeing a schedule for the chapel, click here or you can call ahead  at: (864) 836-3291.

 

I know that this is one destination that has found a spot on my bucket list.

 

Happy Easter, all!

Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church

Saints Peter and Paul Russian and Greek Orthodox Church resides in St. Helena, NC about 26 miles outside of Wilmington. I was introduced to the church by my parents a while back when they found out that I was writing and taking pictures of churches.

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Called The Disappearing Church, there are currently only three members: Ann Debaylo Mizerak, her son, David and her sister, Mary. When Ann and Mary are no longer able to help care for the church, David will care for it along with some cousins. They have not had a full-time priest since 1998, but they meet loyally every Sunday at 10am.  *Check out the short video documentary at the link above for more details. I personally found it rather haunting in a good way.*

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According to an article in Our State Magazine Sts Peter and Paul church is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in North Carolina. In 1905, a developer from Wilmington, Hugh McRae, purchased land in Pender County, NC for the purpose of creating small, European-style farms. He hired immigrants from various ethnic groups to do the farming and between 1923-1932, several Ukrainian and Russian families made their way to St. Helena. In 1932, McRae gave them a deed for land so they could build a church. The church was once thriving, but throughout the years, as families moved away or children assimilated and moved on, attendance began to wane.

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Some unique features of the church, at least for this area, are the gold dome architecture associated with Byzantine churches and the triple-barred cross. The triple-barred cross has three cross-beams: the top one is a title bar where “Jesus, King of Jews” was written, there is the center beam standard to Christian crosses and the bottom beam which is a foot rest.

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Currently, Sts Peter and Paul Church is in the process of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I would like to see that happen as this church contributes a unique and fascinating story. It would be a shame to forget it.

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St. Philip’s Church at Brunswick Town

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I first started writing about churches at the beginning of Lent. In some countries, it is customary to visit seven churches during Holy Week. I knew that I could not visit seven churches in one week, but felt like I could talk about seven different churches over the season of Lent. So far, we have talked about:

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wilmington, NC; Santo Thomas Catholic Church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala; Chapel of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Sedona, AZ, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Episcopalian Church in Savannah, GA and Ann Street Methodist Church in Beaufort, NC. 

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The sixth church on my list is St. Phillip’s Anglican Church. St. Philip’s is not an active church anymore, but rather ruins of a previous church. It was occupied for only 8 years, from 1768-1776, when the British set it on fire during an attack. The walls of the church are the only thing that remain. The church is located in Brunswick town, a “colonial ghost town” along the Cape Fear River in an area that was originally inhabited by Native Americans who were defeated in the Tuscarora War in 1715.  

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In 1862, during the Civil War, Confederate Army soldiers built trenches and a fort in Brunswick Town. It was eventually named Fort Anderson.  In 1865, when Union soldiers attacked and defeated Confederate soldiers at Fort Anderson, some of the graves at St. Philip’s church were desecrated and Confederate bodies were left inside the church.

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In the 1950’s, archaeologists began excavating the area around St. Philip’s and Ft. Anderson. They were able to find many historical artifacts, including the foundations of various structures, old bullets and “bombproofs” which were shelters used during enemy bombardment. Excavations are still ongoing and archaeologists continue to find artifacts.

In 1978, the area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and more recently the television show, “Sleepy Hollow”, used the site as a set location for some of its episodes.

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(Yikes)

I visited the site in the 1980’s as a teenager and did not return again until recently, when I decided to write about it. I walked around inside the shell of the church and toured the grounds. Due to the multitude of historical tragedies that occurred in the area, an air of creepiness hovers about the site. Honestly, that is probably what drew me there as a teenager. However, and on the other hand, it is genuinely fascinating and quite lovely, as well. There is ample space for walking, a trail that extends along the river and lush, old trees all around the property.

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Ann Street Methodist Church and Old Burying Ground

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My introduction to the Ann Street Methodist Church occurred when I visited the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort, founded in 1709, is the third-oldest city in North Carolina. It is a town rich in history with stories from the civil war, pre-civil war and even Blackbeard the pirate who ran his ship ashore in 1719. The Old Burying Ground, the town’s oldest cemetery,  is located between two churches on Ann St: First Baptist Church and Ann Street Methodist Church which was established in 1778.

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(Photo credit: Ann Street United Methodist Church)

Ann Street Methodist Church has its own stories. During the civil war, Union soldiers moved into the church. The sanctuary was used as a field hospital then later it was also used as a hospital during the yellow fever. The cemetery entrance is to the side of the church with the grounds stretching behind the church.

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Upon entering the burying grounds, one can take a brochure which highlights the graves in the cemetery. I, myself, am a fan of cemeteries, not because of some morbid curiosity, but rather because of the stories that they tell. Each grave is a snapshot both into someone’s life and into the times in which they lived. Here are a few interesting snapshots taken directly from the brochure:

 

Pierre Henry (1812-1877) — and Annie Henry (1816-1904) African Americans who were leaders in the education of emancipated slaves and their children at the Washburn Seminary. He was born free during the period of slavery. The school was one of many established in the South by the Congregational Churches of the North following the Civil War.

 

Captain John Sabiston (1800’s) — Died near Charleston, S.C. and was brought home by his crew. People gathered by the wharf at the foot of Turner Street as his body was taken off his ship. They followed as it was taken on a bier through the dark streets of town to the graveyard and lowered into the readied grave by torch light.

 

Sarah Gibbs (d.1792) & Jacob Shepard (d.1773) — Sarah was married to Jacob Shepard, a seaman. Jacob’s ship went to sea, but never returned. He was presumed to be dead. Later, Sarah married Nathaniel Gibbs and had a child with him. After an absence of several years, the shipwrecked Jacob Shepard unexpectedly returned to Beaufort to find his wife married to another man. The two men agreed that Sarah would remain with Gibbs as long as she lived, but must spend eternity at the side of Jacob Shepard.

 

“Crissie Wright” Common Grave — “Cold as the night the ‘Crissie Wright’ went ashore” is still heard around Beaufort. The sailors who froze to death after the wreck of that ship in January, 1886 are buried together in this grave. It is said this tragedy led to the establishment of the Cape Lookout Lifesaving Station in 1887.

 

Girl in Barrel of Rum — Here is the grave of a girl buried in a barrel of rum. In the 1700s an English family, including an infant daughter, came to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland, and finally persuaded her mother to allow her to make the voyage. Her father promised his wife he would return the girl safely. The girl enjoyed her visit to London, but died on the voyage home. She would have been buried at sea, but her father could not bear to break his promise. He purchased a barrel of rum from the captain, placed her body in it, and brought it to Beaufort for burial.

 

Can you imagine the reaction to a story like the Girl in Barrel of Rum if it were to happen today?

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(Photo Credit: Old Burying Ground)

If you ever get the chance to visit Beaufort, I encourage you to stop by the Old Burying Ground behind Ann St Methodist Church. Afterwards, there are several quaint restaurants and coffee houses in case you are hungry or just need a little pick me up. I’m particularly fond of the Chai Latte at the Beaufort Coffee shop on Turner St.

Have a great weekend, all!

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

I’m fortunate enough to have an old group of girlfriends with which to travel from time to time. As a group, we’ve taken several “girls weekends” together. We’re all scattered across North Carolina so the trips have generally been around the south for close proximity: Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Topsail Island, Beaufort, Williamsburg and more. I’ve known these ladies for years. For me, the relationships date back to college or shortly after; for a few of them they date back even further. We’ve even named our group: SWAGs. It stands for Southern Women Aging Gracefully. I’m not sure who came up with it. It wasn’t me. Truthfully, it took a while for me to really embrace the name, mostly because I didn’t feel old. Now, in my forties, I’ve finally started to grow into it.

 

It’s often a challenge to schedule our weekends. There are seven of us with busy and differing schedules. A couple of the ladies are single. The rest are married with children. A few work full or part-time jobs. Others are stay-at-home moms or have gone back to school. And not every SWAG can make it on every trip, but we’ve had some good ones throughout the years. I was terribly excited the year we went to Savannah. We rented a beach house on Tybee Island, 30 minutes from Savannah, and spent part of our time relaxing on the beach. We also spent some time in downtown Savannah. We strolled the streets, visited the shops, and ate lunch (shrimp and grits for me). We toured cemeteries and even took a haunted carriage ride as it became dark later in the day. I loved Savannah. It was eclectic, dripping with history, but also populated with young artsy hipsters.

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We encountered the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist during our exploration of downtown Savannah. St. John’s, a Victorian Gothic cathedral, is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Georgia. It was founded by French Catholic emigres from Haiti in the 1700’s.  The original building suffered a fire in 1898, but was rebuilt in 1900. It was larger than life in every sense of the word. In order to find the cathedral we followed the steeples from a distance, and once we entered the church, it did not disappoint. From the stained-glass windows to the ornate altar to the images of the crucifixion displayed around the church, it was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited.

Below are some more of the photos I took of the Cathedral.

You can see additional pictures at the link above.

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Have a great Saturday, all!

 

Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is perched atop and built into a redrock cliff. Located in  Sedona, Arizona, it is a marvel of architecture. The chapel was commissioned by Marguerite Brunswig Staude who was a local sculptor, and was completed in 1956.

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I visited the chapel in 2009. It was my first and only trip to Arizona, although I hope to visit again. I am a beach girl by heart, but I must admit that my soul was enamored and awestruck by the beauty of the redrocks. What a wonder!

Below are some of my pictures of the chapel and the surrounding area of Sedona.

These pictures were taken inside the chapel.

And these were taken outside. What a magnificent view!

 

Iglesia de Santo Tomás

Iglesia de Santo Tomas is located in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. I visited the church in 2010 while on a short-term mission trip with a team from the church that I was attending at the time. The goal of my team was to help build houses for widows and orphans and to work in feeding centers following an intense period of civil war in Guatemala. Our house was blocks from Santo Tomas.

 

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I found the opportunity to explore the church late one afternoon with a few people from my team. I believe it was a Sunday after the market closed. Chichicastenango is also host to one of the largest, most colorful outdoor markets in Central America. It occurs on Thursdays and Sundays.

One of the girls on my team stopped me as I started to walk out the door. She frowned and asked if I really wanted to go to  Santo Tomas. She said that someone else on our team had already visited the church and told her that it was “dark” and had kind of an eerie feel to it. I said that I would be mindful of that, but I really wanted to see the church. I remembered researching Chichi before I ever visited Guatemala and I had seen pictures of Santo Tomas. There was no way I was not going to seize the opportunity to explore the site.

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People and flowers from the market lingered on the steps of Santo Tomas as we approached. My research had taught me that it was a Catholic church that doubled as a Mayan temple of sorts, as Mayan priests also used the church for their rituals, burning candles and incense and sometimes sacrificing chickens at the church. There was a time when human sacrifices were conducted there, too, but thank goodness, that is no more. There were 18 steps that led to the doors of the church, each one representing a year on the Mayan calendar. The church was enormous, impressive and rather surreal.

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We entered the church and it was, in fact, dark that afternoon. Literally. The lighting was very dim. Candles were scattered throughout the building. Almost immediately, I noticed an older man sitting on the floor surrounded by candles. He was chanting in a language that I did not understand, probably K’iche’. I moved past him toward the sanctuary. A few people sat and prayed in church pews, just like you would see in any Catholic church. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see the two religions being practiced within feet of one another.

As I wandered about the sanctuary, I saw a mixture of sights. In some areas, there were large stains of soot from candles on the wall. It was as if the candles had been burning in the temple for the entire 400 years since it had been built, and nobody had ever offered to wipe down the walls. Of course, that’s an exaggeration and even if it wasn’t, in a country where people are starving, wiping the soot off the walls is the least of anyone’s concerns.

In the front of the church, there were ornate paintings and statues paying tribute to Christ and his followers. Some of them were strikingly beautiful, others not as much. One display, in particular, a gruesome bloody bust of a head, caught my eye. I assumed it was John the Baptist at the time, but it could have been a bust of Christ. We meandered out into a courtyard, which was filled with light and greenery, then proceeded to the front door where we were approached by men begging for money. I’m not sure if they were affiliated with the church or if they wandered in off of the street.

As we walked back to our house, I could see why someone from my church would have found Santo Tomas disconcerting. Our church near the beach was clean with huge windows and lots of light. People went to church in their flipflops, got a coffee from a cafe located inside the church then sat to chit chat with friends as they waited for the service. Services always began with Christian rock songs and sermons were delivered by a cute, good-natured, good-humored preacher. It was a church that delivered positivity. Many of the people who visited Santo Tomas were hungry, desperate and praying to any God that they knew of to ease their suffering. The suffering from the streets bled into the church. This was difficult to reconcile if you felt that churches were supposed to be safe havens to which people retreated to avoid suffering. It was a sharp contrast between two worlds.

I think it’s important to say that even though I saw a lot of suffering in Guatemala, I also saw a lot of resilience and beauty. I went there twice, once in 2010 then again in 2011, and I experienced moments there that were among the most profound and beautiful in my life. I still feel pangs of longing for Guatemala sometimes.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of one of my trips to Guatemala.

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Corn-it’s very central to the Mayan religion.

 

 

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Beautiful babies peeking at us through the trees.

A tourist day to see the volcano and Lake Atitlan.

Sunday Visits

via Daily Prompt: Vivid

Earlier this week, I wrote a little bit about the season of Lent and referenced a Wikipedia article. After my post, I decided to read back over that article. I noticed a sentence that intrigued me: In some Christian countries…the faithful attempt to visit seven churches during Holy Week in honor of Jesus Christ heading to Mount Calvary.

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It gave me an idea. I’m not going to visit seven churches during Holy Week, but it occurred to me that I can find seven churches to highlight during this season, whether they be churches that I have attended or saw on vacation or noticed as I was passing by. Armed with my next idea, I decided to head to downtown Wilmington to take some pictures. I already had a church in mind and I also wanted to visit a bookstore at the Cotton Exchange for a separate mission. While I was at it, I figured I would grab a coffee. 

 

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I recently bought a new camera and figured it would give me an opportunity to break it in. Unfortunately, since I did not plan the adventure ahead of time, the camera was not charged. I read the instructions and realized it would take 310 minutes or something like that to fully charge the camera. I did not have time to wait so I decided to go forward and put my best effort into taking the most vivid pictures possible with my phone camera.

My first stop was a small local bookstore, Two Sisters Bookery, where I bought a book about a character who used to live by the salt marsh at Carolina Beach. I will discuss him more at a later date.

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Next, I headed to Java Dog Coffee House, where I purchased a chai latte and some fruit. I ate the fruit in the cafe then strolled the riverfront for a few minutes while I sipped the latte.

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Finally, I headed to St. Mary’s Church, where I attended school in 7th and 8th grades. I parked on the street by the church. As I approached the church, I noticed the beauty of the architecture, a Spanish Baroque style, in a way that I didn’t really appreciate as a kid. It really was a beautiful building. I did a little research beforehand and apparently, St. Mary’s was designed by the same architect who worked on the Biltmore Estate and Duke Chapel. I walked around the block, circling the church and the school. Memories flooded back to me.

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St. Mary’s was the place where I met my friend, Mary, when I was twelve. We used to walk around the schoolyard on our breaks and talk about the things that fascinated us most: Duran Duran, makeup, Tiger Beat magazine and even books. We are still friends today.

St. Mary’s was the place that introduced me to the nuns: Sister Lillian, a large woman who was also a softie; Sister Patricia, a tomboy who used to play dodgeball with the boys; Sister Josephine who didn’t seem to have any sense of humor at all and Sister Mary John, a tiny little bulldog of a woman. 

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St. Mary’s was the place where I experienced my first real crush. The first time I met someone and actually felt like I was in love. Of course, I wasn’t; I was twelve, but I thought I was.  Unfortunately, it ended very badly. I didn’t belong to the right clique. Friends of the boy poked fun of the situation, and in an effort to diffuse the attention from himself, he turned on me one day and chased me off the playground, calling me the worst name I’ve ever been called in my life. It was a pivotal experience for me. 

St. Mary’s was the church where I first attended a funeral for a classmate. When I was thirteen and in 8th grade, one of my classmates, Martha, along with her mother and a sibling, was killed in a car accident. I remember the parade of caskets at the funeral. It was pitiful.

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As I walked around the building, I saw the courtyard where we played as children. The gate was open.

After a few moments of reflection, I decided to leave. On the way back to the car, I saw my shadow on the sidewalk. It reminded me of something. I belong to a little meditation group and I remembered our instructor talking a while back about something called shadow work. Without getting too deep, the idea is that everyone has a shadow self, a part of himself or herself that doesn’t always feel, do or react the way that we want. The idea is to get to know that part of yourself instead of avoiding it like we all do; and then eventually make friends with it, if possible, since it is part of who you are and there for a reason.

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It occurred to me that maybe I had kind of done that by visiting St. Mary’s. I had added St. Mary’s to my list of churches partly because it was local, and I did have a history with the church. I knew it was a beautiful building; I knew that the architecture was impressive; but I also had a wide range of experiences there-good, bad and ugly, as they say- during some very formative years. My little field trip made me ponder many things beyond architecture. It helped me to look at my complex relationship with St. Mary’s church.