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A Stunning Roadside Church Rises, Collapses, Then Rises Again

Inspired by the work of E. Fay Jones, a group finds a way to build a gorgeous shrine in the middle of nowhere.

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Imagine driving, bleary-eyed, along a Nebraska interstate and stumbling across this resplendent, Prairie Style chapel. Would you see it as a sign from God? (Hey, it’s not a silly question; I probably would, and I’m technically Jewish.) Located in Gretna, the Holy Family Shrine is the work of four anonymous Catholics–including an architect and landscape architect–who were inspired to build a chapel for “travelers of the road and of the spirit” in the style of Euine Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright.

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The founders’ vision was executed by the Midwestern firm BCDM Architects to stunning effect, with the upper trusses of the façade interlaced like waving wheat. A water feature cut into a long pathway leads visitors into the shrine and a skylit lobby containing a slightly incongruous metal sculpture symbolizing the shroud of Christ as it fell to the tomb after his resurrection. The chapel then opens up to an exalted, glass-walled space that merges the indoors with nature. BCDM’s other effort to integrate the built and natural environments can be seen in the visitors’ center, a modest structure embedded into the landscape.

The project broke ground in 1997, only to be destroyed by a ferocious windstorm in 2000. The team eventually regrouped and modified the design to withstand nature’s gusts. And now, the building now stands as a monument to rebirth, much like a certain someone who lived about 2,000 years ago.

[Images by Kessler Photography; courtesy of BCDM Architects]

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About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.

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