On Saturday, I went back to my hometown for the Monroe County (WV) Historical Society's Historic Homes Tour.
Anticipation was high, partially due to the fact that six out of the nine stops are rarely, if ever, open to the public.
The Historical Society had initially hoped to sell around 100 tickets, but the word on the street was that over 500 had been sold! Mine was number 243.
Obviously, I wasn't alone in my desire to see all the tour properties, but I was especially eager to see those I had grown up around, passing by hundreds of times without ever being inside.
The weather wasn't especially pleasant, with temperatures in the 40s, rain showers, and wind. Nevertheless, hosts and volunteers were ready to welcome visitors. My sister and I left her home in time to arrive at our chosen first stop by 10:00 am, when the tour officially began.
We were the first visitors to arrive at St. John's Chapel, in Sweet Springs. It is the oldest Catholic church in continuous use in West Virginia. It was founded by Letitia Preston and Floyd Lewis, and built by slaves sometime between 1839 and 1859.
Our guide met us outside to explain that when the slaves built the church, they used the best bricks for the front. Also, they somehow knew to lay the top layer of bricks at an angle, which makes a better seal when the roof is attached. You have to look closely, but you can see that top row of angled bricks in the photo below.
The original cross from the top of the steeple was found in the attic during renovations, and a new one was faithfully reproduced.
As the rain began to fall, we hurried inside. The stained glass windows let in some light, and there are electric lights here and there, but because of the gloomy day, the interior of the chapel was a bit on the dim side. Still, it was beautiful!
Renovators discovered a remnant of the original stenciling and were able to replicate it on all four walls.
The paintings hanging all around the chapel date back to its beginnings, and depict the stations of the Cross.
The pews and kneeling benches are also original.
What caught my eye first, though, was the altar.
It's hard to believe such a thing of beauty is tucked away in this tiny chapel in the mountains of southern West Virginia. I'm thinking transporting it here was quite an undertaking in the mid-1800s.
There is a balcony that runs across the back of the chapel, and up there is a working pump organ. Connie couldn't resist and played Amazing Grace. Because of all the wood and plaster in the room, the sound was glorious!
Just as Connie finished, our guide gently rang the chapel bell - such a wonderful, soothing sound.
Below is the view of the chapel from the balcony. The cables you see running horizontally held a lower ceiling that was added at some point, and has since been removed.
You can see a statue of Mary on the left end of the altar rail and a nun on the right end.
When you go through the door to the right of the altar area, you find a pot-bellied wood stove.
Continuing on to the left, behind the altar area, there is a narrow hallway. From this hall, there is a very narrow stairway, leading up to a small second floor, where the priest had meager furnishings for his living quarters. The stairs are so narrow that visitors weren't allowed to go up.
The hallway led to a small room to the left of the altar area, where the priest heard confessions. He sat in the upholstered chair, the person making his or her confessions sat on the other side of the wooden divider, and (as the guide put it) everyone in the church listened. Gulp!!
This plaque is posted on the back wall of the chapel:
There was to be a Latin Mass conducted on Sunday afternoon in the chapel, and a service is held annually in August. Even though I'm not a Catholic, I think I would like to worship here. Just like the banner hanging in the chapel says, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." We're all God's children and He likes it when we worship Him together.
Our next stop on the tour was the Old Sweet Springs resort...which will have to wait for another post. Stay tuned!