The visitor finds an interesting church hidden behind the majestic Crescent Hotel, where once stood its terraced gardens. What first calls the attention is the blend of architectural styles, Byzantine, Gothic and Romanesque visible in two adjoining constructions, as well as in the bell-tower. The Byzantine-style building has a rotunda-like roof, and its exterior resemblance with Saint Sophia of Istanbul is obvious; the other building, which looks like its protective sister, attracts with the contrast between the Gothic angular windows and round arches, but also with its thick walls, which, despite the small proportions, give the impression of a sturdy construction.
This is Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church whose local fame is related to yet another architectural peculiarity, namely the entrance in the church is made via the bell-tower. In the USA, with no exception, the bells are located on the roofs of the churches, hence Saint Elizabeth of Eureka Springs is a thing of wonder. The other reason for its fame is rooted in the story of its birth.
This church that enjoys the beautiful location of the hotel nearby, in the Ozark Mountains, crowning over curvy hills, the most diverse types of trees, and over slopes naturally bordered by massive stones, was built as a chapel in 1904 by the businessman Richard C. Kerens* who was a native of St. Louis, Missouri. Kerens was one of the owners of the Missouri-North Arkansas Railways, and a dedicated supporter of the local affairs of Eureka Springs (i.e. he was also involved in financing the building of the Crescent Hotel, one of the most elegant establishments of this spa resort in the first years of the twentieth century).
One summer, at the end of the 1890s, he was spending his vacation with his family in Eureka Springs at the newly-built Crescent. At the time, the hotel gardens were connected to the central streets of the town via a set of stairs. There stood Elizabeth, his mother, who bid him farewell as he was living on a business trip. Upon return, Kerens found out that his mother had died. He decided to build a chapel in the memory of his mother, on the place he last saw her. That was the place where now the bell tower stands.
In 1904 the chapel was open and it bore the name of Keren`s mother, which also happened to be the name of a parish school existing previously in Eureka Springs. Saint Elizabeth lived in the thirteenth century; she was born in present-day Slovakia (i.e. but at the time of her life, it was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary) and she dedicated her life to caring for the poor and the sick. Her most known miracle is the transformation of bread into roses. The rosy colour as seen in the original stained glasses of the chapel, as well as the image of the bread basket turned into roses, in the stained glass above the entrance door of the chapel, are direct allusions to Saint Elizabeth`s miracle.
A few years later, in 1909, the chapel was extended, becoming a church. It took over the functions of catering for the Catholic community, as previously fulfilled by the Sacred Heart Parish and Hotel Dieu Hospital, establishments administered by the Sisters of Mercy order, based in St. Louis. In fact, two of the statues that can be admired today in Saint Elizabeth Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Sacred Heart of Jesus, date to 1885, and once stood in the chapel of Hotel Dieu Hospital, which served as a convalescent home, hospital, school, and convent. The entire church complex underwent a significant restoration in the 1950s when most of the garden sculptures were acquired.
A statue of Saint Elizabeth, of original Italian Carrera marble, made in 1953 by the Italian sculptor Mario Checchi, located in the bell tower, welcomes the visitor. A ramp connects the bell tower to the entrance of the church. On the left the visitor sees the church and its walls made of local dolomite limestone; in front, there is the statue of Saint Joseph made by the same sculptor. On the right side, the attention is caught by a group of statues including the 14 stations of Christ, also made of Carrera marble in an artist colony of Italy.
The chapel serves now as the vestibule to the church itself. The entrance doors are the original ones, made of massive bronze and mahogany. When the visitor steps into the rotunda, the impression made by the combination of rosy light provided by the original stained-glasses, the statues, the candles, and the chandelier is a lasting one. Apart from the already mentioned older statues that were brought from the other Catholic establishment, the attention is attracted by a small statue of the Infant of Prague, the protector of those in financial need, by a statue of Saint Therese de Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun canonized in 1925, by a statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost and found. The impressive chandelier, which is a more recent donation to the church, makes a good pair with the current terrazzo floor; in the middle, it has the eagle that stands for the USA, as well as arrows and branches that symbolize war and peace.
The chapel opens up into the church itself, whose altar, visible in the central archway is the original Carrera marble piece brought from Italy, and adorned with carvings of acanthus leaves and mosaic panels. The area surrounding the altar, the Sanctuary, displays the Tabernacle, the place where the Eucharist is kept; the Crucifix made of serpentine marble in a Botonee design, the same design as the cross atop Saint Peter’s in Rome, both the cross and the corpus being made by local artists and parishioners; the mural above the altar depicting `The Agony in the Garden` (i.e. conceived by the Cole Brothers of Little Rock). The atmosphere of the church`s nave is emphasized by the light coming from the stained glass windows that depict the seven sacraments and other various scenes from the Bible; they date to 1990s and were designed by Liz Ryan, a descendant of R. Kerens. Noteworthy statues of the nave include another representation of Saint Joseph, as well as of Elizabeth of Hungary, and a pair of kneeling angels that also stood in the Hotel Dieu Hospital, and are probably as old as the other two statues of the same place.
As the visitor is exiting the church, he/she sees the shrine devoted to Our Lady of Fatima. Farther in the garden there is the Memorial Garden and the Columbarium, which is the resting place of the cremated remains of some members of the Saint Elizabeth Church. Behind the church, there is a small stone building, which was the rectory in the years 1950-2016. Now it serves as the gift shop of the church. In addition to many other souvenirs, it sells cardinal birds charms, the small representations of those amazing red-coloured birds native to the American continent, which became a symbol of Christmas.
*There are no resources on the internet to attest a possible connection of Kerens with Hungary. He was Irish by birth but it is not excluded that his mother could have been of Hungarian ancestry. In any case, Richard C. Kerens was the ambassador of USA to Austria-Hungary in the years 1909-1913.
Rod McGuire, Father Shaun Wesley, Walking through history for over 100 years…A Thumbnail History & Self-Guided Tour of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church, Eureka Springs
http://stelizabethar.org/history.htm?fbclid=IwAR2r6yMczcbQksXOBnIXK1bHfwIqFxdzFWQuIXVYPJvKSk5F0-Ew6RRMu18 [accessed 7th September 2019]