by Arline Chandler
A hundred-mile ride from Branson and the moments of one day create a precious memory in an Ozarks vacation. Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri, is the dream of artist Sam Butcher, inspired by his visit to the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Through his artwork featuring children with teardrop eyes and messages of inspiration, Butcher shares the message of God's love.
Opened in 1989, Precious Moments Chapel, the centerpiece of an Ozarks meadow enhanced by gardens, specimen trees, and nightscape lighting, is an artist's masterpiece in Italian architectural style. Over 200 feet of imported wrought iron panels and two massive gates mark the entrance. Two sculpted cast bronze plates on the front of the building set the theme for the Old and New Testaments. Front doors, hand carved by Butcher and his understudy, Nelson Lete, from Nara wood imported from the Philippines, open into the main room of the Chapel. Thirty stained glass windows, designed by the artist, filter prisms of light into wings adjoining the large room.
With a first floor area of 6,400 square feet, the main sanctuary contains 52 Biblical murals that cover more than 5,000 square feet. The largest single mural is the Chapel ceiling, 30 feet overhead, and covering 1,408 square feet.
Sam Butcher's fondest memories of Bible stories told by his grandmother are depicted in murals on the left and right sides of the sanctuary. Three murals on the Chapel's front walls represent the artist's vision of Heaven. In 'Hallelujah Square,' children welcome one another and announce 'No More Tears.' To the right of Hallelujah Square, 'Promises of Everlasting Peace,' emphasize peace between people and nations, as well as God's peace that passes all understanding in the heart of man. On the left, little angels wait in line to receive their halos. In each mural, Butcher brings to life tender stories of real people, related by the tour's interpreter.
Behind the Chapel, guests view Mr. Webb's Garden, Grandpa's Island, centered with a castle playhouse for Butcher's grandchildren, a model of the Resurrection Scene, and walkways lined with colorful blooming plants. Throughout the landscaped grounds, sculptures add moments of reflection and inspiration.
An art museum and gallery house Sam Butcher's figurines in the Enesco Precious Moments collection, as well as his numerous awards and examples of his early work. In the Visitor's Center, Royal Delights, a sandwich and snack shop, serves fresh baked bread, hamburgers, French fries, and desserts. Guests discover one of the largest selections of Precious Moments merchandise in the newly expanded gift shop. One of the world's grandest show fountains, The Fountain of Angels, features 252 hand sculpted bronze figures, some weighing more than a thousand pounds. Sam Butcher's latest masterpiece, the artist first sketched the design during a trial in his life. He had turned to Bible scriptures and discovered that each one relating to his circumstances contained symbols of water.
One hundred thousand gallons of water and over two hundred thousand watts of light are choreographed with praise music, arranged by Jon, the artist's oldest son, and recorded in London, England specifically for the Fountain of Angels. Theatre seating provides comfort for guests to enjoy the inspirational water and light display several times daily.
For romantics who wish to include a storybook wedding in their memory book, Precious Moments Wedding Island, a Victorian setting envisioned by the artist, is a perfect place for beginning life as a couple. Set in a 40-acre lake, eleven islands named after Butcher's grandsons, the Wedding Island may be toured only when wedding schedules permit.
An 1886 church, given to Butcher by the congregation as a gift, is the Wedding Chapel. Just a few steps away, the Bridal House is reserved for the bride and her party to prepare for the occasion. A reception in the 1890's Queen Anne Victorian Mansion follows the wedding vows. Moved in two sections from the historic district of Carthage, the home is accented with fireplace mantles and a staircase from an old hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. The upstairs of the mansion features two wedding suites with elaborate bathrooms. Newlyweds may choose to stay overnight following the ceremony.
For those who wish to spend an evening at Carthage, the Best Western Precious Moments Hotel offers comfortable accommodations at affordable prices. RVers have the option of staying at Cubby Bears RV Park.
For More Information:
The Precious Moments Chapel is open from January 3 through December 31 with shorter hours between January and March. For information, write P.O. Box 802, Carthage, MO 64836. Phone: 417-358-7599.
Copyright Arline Chandler
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