Thursday, February 18, 2016

Quick stop in Eureka Springs; or, you can't always get what you want

entrance to the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs
When we started researching churches, Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was on all sorts of lists. Though no congregation meets in the building, it's known for its beauty, so we thought it'd be worth a side trip.

We were excited to learn that Eureka Springs is also known for the Christ of the Ozarks statue (third tallest Jesus statue in the world), part of The Great Passion Play attraction just outside of town. So we decided the community would be a good first stop in Arkansas and set off. Our first stop, we decided, would be the statue and Passion Play.

authentic souvenir from the Great Passion Play
The actual two-and-a-half hour play is only performed from May through October, so we weren't surprised that the property looked almost abandoned. We decided to check in at the gift shop and Bible Museum first.

Bible Museum
Even though it's housed in what seems to be an annex to the gift shop, the Bible Museum is impressive. It houses more than 6,000 Bibles in over 625 languages and dialects, and contains fragments of a number of very old documents including a first edition of the first printing of the King James (Authorised) Bible, the first Cherokee Bible, and a page from a Gutenberg Bible. It also contains the only complete Bible translated into English by a woman, a fragment of Erasmus' Textus Receptus, and translations by John Wycliffe (into English) and Martin Luther (into German).

Cherokee Bible segments
After that, we were ready to take a look at the buildings that are used for the Great Passion Play and the New Holy Land Tour, which are across the street from the gift shop (and Bible Museum). Going inside the buildings (or walking the tour route) wasn't a possibility, but we didn't really mind. A couple returning from the individual tour while we wandered around the entrance assured us we should take the tour when we had the chance.

We also took a look at the amphitheater where the play is performed during the summer. It was impressive, with 6,000 seats and a three story set that's 550 feet wide, according to the website. It is, apparently, the largest outdoor pageant in the US, with more than 150 actors and many live animals.

After checking in at the gift store again (because a sign said we should), we drove up to the statue. The statue was the first element of  what eventually became The Great Passion Play complex, dedicated in 1966 and built by Emmet Sullivan (who later built the brontosaurus at Wall Drug, South Dakota). It was impressive, and somehow, the scaffolding set up for the current restoration of the statue added to the appeal.

An unexpected element of the attaction was the small chapel building with a 10' x 10' segment of the Berlin Wall next to it. The chunk of the wall has Psalm 23
(in German) written on it, which I (Mindy) found inspiring.

Thorncrown Chapel from the highway
Oh, and Thorncrown Chapel? After we'd visited the Great Passion Play property, we drove to the other side of Eureka Springs to take a look at it. Although a sign said it was open every day, the driveway was gated shut. We drove by again the next morning, hoping to be able to visit, but the driveway gate was still closed, with a sign that said not to walk through. This is the only picture we got.*

*I just checked. The Chapel is closed during January and February, except for weddings. Oops.

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