The Good Shepherd’s Shelter
In time for the Nov. 17 feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, a visit to the church dedicated to her in Eureka Springs, Ark. By Kimberly Jansen.
Helen Quinn grew up in Philadelphia, but, when she talks about home, she’s referring to a picturesque town in the Ozark Mountains. And why not? She has lived in Eureka Springs since 1979.
Quinn represents the fifth generation of her family to reside here. In fact, one of the town’s two Catholic churches was built in honor of her great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Kerens: In 1905, railroad tycoon Richard Kerens erected St. Elizabeth of Hungary as a memorial chapel for his deceased mother.
According to Quinn, Kerens is credited for funding a church in West Virginia and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the St. Louis, Mo., cathedral, as well. He also served as the U.S. ambassador to Austria-Hungary.
So it isn’t surprising that St. Elizabeth Church in Eureka Springs is named not for the mother of John the Baptist, but for the 13th-century queen famous for her generosity to the poor. The Church celebrates her feast on Nov. 17.
My tour of St. Elizabeth began near the top of the town’s tallest hill, at the base of the historic Crescent Hotel. This, too, was built by Richard Kerens.
A beautiful bell tower housing a statue of St. Elizabeth of Hungary provides the entrance to the church grounds, said to be the spot where Kerens last spoke with his mother before she died in 1892.
As I followed the long elevated sidewalk, a set of Carrara marble Stations of the Cross escorted me on the right, while a look to the left revealed a 15-foot drop-off with an excellent bird’s-eye view of the church’s Byzantine-style architecture. The tile roof and native limestone exterior blend seamlessly with the beautiful surroundings.
I descended down the stairs toward the church’s front door where a Marian grotto off to the right caught my attention. Statues of Our Lady of Fatima and the three shepherd children are surrounded by plants and flowers galore. There’s a spectacular view of the hills behind them.
A gigantic stone statue of Jesus rises on the other side of the valley, peeking above the treetops. I knew from my pre-trip reading that the 67-foot Christ of the Ozarks is part of The Great Passion Play amphitheater and museum complex that draws crowds to Eureka Springs all summer long.
Upon entering the church, I was immediately greeted by the word “Silence” as part of a mosaic on the floor. I appreciated the timely reminder, especially after just leaving my parents to corral my two young children in the courtyard outside.
As I continued forward into the dome-shaped foyer, a mysterious red light filled the room, and I passed statues and relics of St. Anthony and St. Thérèse as well as images of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
I learned that this rotunda was actually the initial chapel built by Richard Kerens in 1905. This helped explain why it was almost as big as the main church itself, which was funded by Kerens five years later.
As I moved into the smallish sanctuary, said to seat only 200 people, rays of sunlight poured through stained-glass windows on each side. The iridescent windows display myriad symbols representing the seven sacraments, so it was like playing a game with my husband to decipher each one.
The two flanking the altar were easy. One showed hosts and wheat, the other a chalice full of grapes. The Eucharist, anyone?
The other six, however, took a little more figuring. Dove, crosier, tongues of fire. That had to be confirmation. Lamb, wheat, grapes, stole and Bible: holy orders. Crown, lamp and lilies … oh, yes: anointing of the sick.
Directly behind the altar, the tabernacle is covered with similar imagery. According to a sign near the sanctuary’s entrance, the round host with rays of light shining forth symbolizes Christ as the Light of the world and center of our faith.
Seven red-and-gold crosses surround an image of a lamb while a cross silhouetted by red light emphasizes that it is only Christ’s death that makes the seven sacraments efficacious.
The Real Deal
The wall behind the tabernacle displays a mural of Jesus as the Good Shepherd overlooking the Ozark Mountains. It was painted by Helen Quinn’s sister Liz Ryan, now deceased. (Ryan also helped design the stained-glass windows.)
Although I didn’t initially notice the detail, Quinn was quick to mention that the mural features cows in the pasture rather than sheep, in keeping with the actual livestock present in northwestern Arkansas.
After spending a brief time in prayer, I turned to leave and noticed two more windows at the rear of the church: the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary at the Annunciation on the right and an angel appearing to St. Joseph in a dream on the left.
As I exited the church, the precious silence was immediately broken by the sound of my 3-year-old son crying in the parking lot, so my hike back up the stairs was far from leisurely.
Thankfully, I turned back for one last look, and again I noticed Jesus’ torso emerging above the trees from The Great Passion Play center across town.
As amazing an experience as the theatrical production must be, I couldn’t help but muse that Jesus’ outstretched arms appeared to be gesturing across the valley to where I stood at St. Elizabeth’s.
It was as if he were saying to tourists, retirees and other visitors who frequent the area: “I’m over there waiting for you!”
Happy are those who hear his call.
Kimberly Jansen writes from
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church
30 Crescent Drive
Eureka Springs, AR 72632
Office: (479) 253-2222
Rectory: (479) 253-9853
Planning Your Visit
Daily Mass is celebrated Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8:30 a.m. Sunday Mass is celebrated at 5 p.m. Saturday (vigil) and at 7 and 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Confessions are heard before weekend Masses.
- November 11-17, 2007