Sunday, September 27, 2015

Landmark on the Prairie: Shrine of the Holy Family, Gretna, Nebraska

During a recent journey by car from Omaha to Custer County, Nebraska, and back, I had occasion for a quick side trip. This is the photo journal of my brief visit at the Shrine of the Holy Family. 

The purpose of my side trip was to explore a dramatic-looking chapel plainly visible to the south side of I-80 near the town of Gretna. As I followed the gravel road leading to the chapel, I wondered what lead to the decision to build such a beautiful chapel out in the country. Was it really, as it appeared from the Interstate highway, a place of solace for weary travelers?

From the small parking lot, one walks along a path lined with flowering plants. Many bees and butterflies were enjoying the sunny day as I moved quietly by to the entrance facility.

The entrance includes a sculpture that drips water from a sky light into a circular pool. The path one takes makes a 90 degree left turn at this pool, and proceeds toward the chapel itself

A man-made stream bubbles along a path cut through the center of the stone walkway from the entrance facility to the Shrine.

The stream continues from the circular pool in the entrance, down the walkway, and then under the floor of the nave to the altar.

Between the columns are depictions of the Stations of the Cross. Wooden crosses decorate the sconce lighting fixtures.

The Holy Family Shrine is glass-walled, with supports holding up its 45-ft. tall roof.

The Holy family etched into the glass wall behind the altar is easier to see from outside.

View from exterior side chapel looking toward the main door 

Trellis roof over the peaceful exterior side chapel

A panoramic view of the Shrine of the Holy Family and the prairie near Gretna, Nebraska
The idea for the shrine was hatched in 1993, and the shrine opened in 2002. Though the chapel is quite elegant, it is not a parish church. Its sole purpose is to give interstate drivers a place to stop and pray. The entrance facility offers information about the site selection, acquisition, and development, along with information about the Catholic faith.

If the Shrine of the Holy Family looks familiar, there is good reason. Its design is very similar in shape and scale to E. Fay Jones's award-winning Thorncrown Chapel.

"Nestled in a woodland setting, Thorncrown Chapel rises forty-eight feet into the Ozark sky. This magnificent wooden structure contains 425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass. It sits atop over 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone, making it blend perfectly with its setting. The chapel's simple design and majestic beauty combine to make it what critics have called "one of the finest religious spaces of modern times." Since the chapel opened in 1980, over six million people have visited this woodland sanctuary."

Euine Fay Jones (January 31, 1921 – August 31, 2004) was an American architect and designer. An apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright during his professional career, Jones is the only one of Wright's disciples to have received the AIA Gold Medal (1990), the highest honor awarded by the American Institute of Architects. His Thorncrown Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, only 20 years after it was built, in recognition of its architectural significance. It has also received a special 25-Year Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Architectsand other professional recognition.

The Holy Family Shrine was designed by BCDM Architects. To my way of thinking, it is as if the architects were paying homage to E. Fay Jones, transporting his design from the forest of Alabama to the prairie of Nebraska. More information about the design development and many high-quality photos are available HERE.

Next time you are traveling on I-80 through Nebraska, do yourself a favor and stop for a visit at the Shrine of the Holy Family.