The best things in life when out adventuring are often the things you really didn’t expect. This can come in many forms – a great meal from a greasy spoon, a meaningful conversation with a shop owner, a stunning sunset or a building that is so interesting you have to stop and explore.
Before any trip, I always do some reconnaissance work looking for off the beaten path stuff and prioritizing how to spend my time. In the process of preparing for our South Dakota adventure, I read about the Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City.
Even though I planned for it, this turned out to be one of those unexpected places, one of those special places that defy convention and become a defining memory of the trip.
It looks like someone transported an ancient Norwegian church through the ages and across the sea to the Black Hills.
Truth is, Lutherans built this incredibly ornate wooden church in 1969. It’s a replica of a stave church in Norway that dates to around the year 1200.
It’s in town but on some acreage so it feels peaceful, isolated, rustic and other worldly. It looks and feels like it doesn’t belong and yet being there is so calming it seems perfectly natural.
It’s built almost entirely with wood, including wooden dowels rather than nails to hold it together. Intricate wood carvings were created by local artists and a Norwegian expert brought in to make sure it recreates the themes found on the original Norwegian church.
The floor and foundation are stone. The sanctuary is simple. The benches look uncomfortable.
There’s a covered passageway known as an ambulatory that covers the entire exterior. This provides shelter to the foundation which is especially helpful in harsh climates and causes the sanctuary to feel somehow more isolated from the outside world.
As a person who spends much time studying churches from the outside, it was not lost on me this symbolism of providing shelter to those who don’t quite make it inside.
My adventure pal isn’t as oddly enamored with churches as I am. So she wandered off to give me a few minutes to absorb my surroundings and I was grateful for these stolen moments.
There’s a meditation trail and visitors are welcome to dwell. They host weddings and have evening services during the warm season – the casual dress of a vacationer is perfectly fine.
There’s a log cabin museum and a visitors center complete with gift shop on the property. The log cabin was built in the nineteenth century by a Norwegian prospector who came to the Black Hills during the gold rush. The visitor center is a grass roofed structure known as a Stabbur, another interesting Norwegian architectural style.
If you are ever in Rapid City, I hope you will make time to go and dwell. Stop and smell the lavender and find some inner peace. You can read more about the history and architecture at their website by clicking here.
I think stave churches are fascinating. The first I saw was at Epcot. We saw one one a fjord in Norway, but it wasn’t open. It had a small graveyard, too. This is something I would visit if I ever go through Rapid City again.
This was my first. I had seen pictures before and pictures really don’t do them justice. You should give Rapid City another chance someday. I really loved some aspects of this town.