The Chapels of Kanuga
Discovering the Heart of Kanuga
Ask anyone who has spent time at Kanuga about the Chapel of the Transfiguration, and they’ll likely reply that it’s the heart of Kanuga. Every piece of this historic structure tells a story about the people who were involved in its creation.
Work on the chapel began in 1938. Scottish born S. Grant Alexander, who lived in nearby Asheville and reconstructed Fletcher’s Calvary Episcopal Church, was employed to design the structure.
The board requested the chapel be built from pine logs felled on the property during an early spring windstorm. While it was a noble idea, the pinewood proved to be too soft and began to lean outwards during the building process. Metal support rods, which stretch from wall to wall, saved the structure. Almost 20 years later, steel channel supports were added under the eaves and through the transepts to prevent further movement.
The chapel was dedicated on July 19, 1942. To worship within the building is to step back into time. Those who lift their eyes heavenwards during service see the handprints of the craftsmen who completed the ceiling paneling.
The high altar is from the rotunda of the old Inn, which served as the location for services prior to the chapel. Each pew serves as a memorial, with the last one on the pulpit side dedicated to Rufus Huneycutt, Kanuga’s buildings and grounds superintendent at the time of the chapel’s construction.
On the rear walls are tablets honoring those who have given memorial gifts, scholarship endowments, and endowments for the Guest Period chaplaincies—serving as a lasting testament to Kanuga’s history.
“The Chapel of the Transfiguration is more than a simple building for Kanuga,” says Kanuga President Michael R. Sullivan. “It is the spiritual home for all of our guests who have found renewal of their mind, body, and faith at Kanuga.”
Nestled within the blissfully cool confines of Kanuga’s woods is a spiritual treasure dating back to Kanuga’s earliest day. The St. Francis Chapel, established in 1928 and officially named in 1941, offers an opportunity to worship while immersed in nature.
Located near the High Rocks Trail, the open-air space welcomes worshipers with low wooden benches weathered by time and countless hours of prayer. A simple altar made from native stone is located across a gentle stream. Three rustic bridges connect the altar to the outdoor sanctuary and allow guests to approach the altar for communion.
The chapel’s furnishings may be simple, but they serve as a powerful reminder of the generous spirit that permeates Kanuga. The stone altar was installed as part of a private donation, and the clay frontal was donated by the Penland School of Handicrafts, an art school in nearby Mitchell County. Unfortunately, the clay frontal could not withstand the passage of time and was eventually replaced with the current bronze plaque.
Throughout the years, the chapel has hosted numerous services, weddings, baptisms, and quiet moments of reflection. The chapel is on the National Historic Registry as part of the Kanuga Lake Historic District.
The area also provides a final resting place for Kanuga’s treasured friends. The St. Francis Chapel Memorial Woods, which was created in memory of Patricia Minkler Howell, is nearby and surrounded by curved stone walls. Bronze plaques embedded within the stones hold the names of those who have completed their earthly journey.
With so many beautiful views at Kanuga, it’s no surprise guests are drawn to worship outdoors. Such is the beginning of the Lakeside Chapel, which originated near a spot where guests gathered to worship in 1928.
The beautiful views of the lake beckoned, and the current chapel was placed near the Kanuga Lake Inn. The location allowed for additional seating and wheelchair access. Up to 200 guests can sit on benches made from South American mahogany and enjoy breath-taking views of the cross on the opposite lake shore.
The chapel was a gift from Kanuga board member and property chairman Jack Jones and his wife, Phyllis, and Mrs. Eleanor T. McCullough and Charles E. Thomas. The chapel was dedicated on August 1, 1987.
Today, the Lakeside Chapel is used for vespers during the Summer Guest Period. Many parish retreats and youth conferences also hold worship services there in the warmer months.
Surrounded by a mixture of pine and hardwood trees with views of the sky and lake, the Lakeside Chapel allows guests to experience God and creation in classic Kanuga tradition.
While most of Kanuga’s chapels are located within easily accessible guest areas, one special chapel is located on the Bob Campbell Youth Campus. The Gehman Chapel was built in 2000 and has served various uses since its construction. It benefits students attending Camp Bob and the Mountain Trail Outdoor School. When it is not occupied by youth campus groups, it can be reserved for services by outside groups.
The rustic post and beam chapel is built in memory of Henry Nevin Gehman by his wife Sally Bet Nevius Gehman. Located on a knoll and surrounded by woods, the chapel provides a peaceful place for contemplation with views of Kanuga’s natural beauty from all sides.
While the chapel is plain, a cross designed by artist Tomas J. Fernandez provides a beautiful and unique focal point. Named Corpus Christi, the metal cross uses positive and negative space to encourage worshippers to discover a new perspective. When the cross is illuminated, the figure of Christ appears in the negative space and reminds Kanuga campers of the divine presence within these mountains.