If you’ve ever been a fan of those adorable teardrop-eyed Precious Moments children, you will love the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. After years of wanting to visit it, I finally did. You know how sometimes when you expect big things and then you get there and it’s a letdown? It was the opposite with the Precious Moments Chapel, the only such chapel in the world. I expected a small building with a few cute Precious Moments figurines and paintings. Instead, what I found was awesome in the true sense of the word, huge paintings and murals and the property covering acres of land, all as beautiful as the Precious Moments figurines that you certainly familiar with.
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The chapel is the work of Sam Butcher, an artist who in partnership with another, began producing greeting cards and posters with the now-recognizable children in 1975 and then began marketing the porcelain figurines in 1978. Looking for a place to live and work, a place with trees, hills and a stream, he came upon the property in Carthage. Construction on the chapel began in 1985, Mr. Butcher’s gift of gratitude to the Lord.
You enter the property through the visitor center. When I visited, it was all decked out for Christmas, but even without the gorgeous soaring white Christmas tree, the center looks like a fairyland.
We had arrived there late in the afternoon, after the 3:00 closing time of the café and ice cream shop, so we didn’t get a treat to eat. Instead we strolled down the pathway to the chapel and once inside, discovered a treat for the eyes and the soul.
Paintings, all featuring children created in the Precious Moments style, cover the walls, and all of them have meaning. It’s best to take the free 20-minute tour, on which your guide will point out the meanings of all of the paintings, from the “Creation Story” and a “Tribute to the Arts” on the balcony wall, to stories from the Old Testament and scenes from the “Life of Jesus.”
The masterpiece mural, titled “Hallelujah Square,” covers the front wall, the wall you see as you enter the chapel. The painting has been added onto several times. Each of the children in the painting represents someone who touched Mr. Butcher’s life, some relatives and some children he never met in person but who he knew through letters sent to him. Most of the people he depicted in the mural are deceased, but there are a few still living, including his brother and himself. After he painted his mother, he signed the mural and said no more will be added to it. Whether the people in the picture represent children or adults, they are all depicted as children except for Jesus, who was painted at center of the mural, not purposely centered, but noticed only after the painting was complete.
Besides the large chapel room, there are other areas to explore. Phillip’s Room, dedicated to Mr. Butcher’s son who was killed in a car accident, has several pews where you can sit and pray or reflect.
Throughout the building, dioramas and displays are built around Precious Moments figurines. The thirty stained-glass windows were also designed by Sam Butcher.
Mr. Butcher now spends most of his time in the Philippines, although he still returns to Carthage now and then and often touches up paintings during his visits. In 2014, at age 75, Sam Butcher repainted part of the chapel ceiling. He wasn’t happy with the gloomy look of dark clouds around the edges, so he repainted them in purple while lying on his back 35 feet in the air on scaffolding.
A museum on the grounds of the chapel, which is open seasonally, was closed during our visit so we didn’t get to see it. Returning through the visitor center, you may want to browse the world’s largest Precious Moments gift shop, as well, especially if you or a loved one is a collector.
The Precious Moments Chapel, located at 4321 S Chapel Road in Carthage, Missouri, is open year-round except on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. However, the museum is seasonal, and hours vary. Check the web site for the exact schedule.
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