As you make your way onto Kanuga’s campus, there’s a small gravel drive to the right, shaped like a crescent moon that invites your eyes to wander up into the forest. If you find yourself in this area near the High Rocks Trail, be sure to take some time to explore an outdoor chapel once known as “The Leafy Chapel.” This open-air sanctuary was established in 1928 during the early days of Kanuga and has remained a beloved place for guests to worship, hold weddings and baptisms, or visit for quiet contemplation and prayer.
A meandering stone walkway (named Nell’s Walk in memory of Nell Mason Barr) leads you into the welcoming woods. There you’ll find a chapel complete with low-slung wooden planks for pews and an altar made of native stone. Three wooden bridges cross a gentle stream that divides the pews from the altar, inviting worshipers to approach the altar for communion. Consecrated by decades of prayer, a feeling of peace emanates from this sacred place.
Renamed St. Francis Chapel in 1941 in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the chapel is on the National Historic Registry as part of the Kanuga Lake Historic District. It also includes the St. Francis Chapel Memorial Woods created in memory of Patricia Minkler Howell, where the ashes of Kanuga friends are interred. The Memorial Woods area is framed by curved stone walls embedded with bronze plaques bearing the names of cherished Kanugans.
Some of the chapel’s history can be found in Jack Reak’s book, Kanuga—Story of a Gathering Place. He relays that the chapel in August of 1933 was to be the scene of the first ordination at Kanuga. “It was scheduled to be outdoors because at the time that was Kanuga’s only chapel.” The Rev. A. Rufus Morgan, an integral figure in the creation of Kanuga, is quoted in the book as writing “Some of our friends heard us say we wished we could have a permanent altar of stone and they quietly contributed enough to build it. When my sister, Miss Lucy Morgan, head of Penland School of Handicrafts, heard that we had built the stone altar, she offered the services of her teacher of ceramics, Miss Becky Jamerson, to make a frontal of clay.”
We invite you to experience the calming beauty of this woodland chapel on your next visit to Kanuga.