History of the Chapel
"St. Francis Star of the Sea Chapel"
Most people think that with the expanded wedding business that takes place at KFR, the little chapel that the heart of festivities, was built for the purpose of having weddings……Alas, I must correct that version of “the story”, as this creation does have a purpose and history far greater than just providing a beautiful wedding venue….Read on if you will….it’s a bit of a long story; but, fun to share!
This lovely chapel was the result of many influences; all in all, I tell people it was a “God deal” that just evolved. Growing up , my mom often told us stories of the little chapel on the family ranch where she grew up in Lampasas county. It as not unusual for ranch-owners to build a chapel where they and employees could profess their faith. My grandfather, William Wittenburg, felt it was his obligation to encourage the faith of his ranch hands; therefore, once a month he took off to Austin, (an 80 mile ride jaunt) with horse and buggy, picked up the priest and brought him to the ranch to say mass for the family and employees. I always grew up thinking what a lovely idea this was.
Many twists and turns of life, including the loss of my husband, Charles Knolle jr., in 1997, brought me to a better understanding of a bit “deeper” purpose and reason for life, and back to this fun tradition that was a part of my family. Through some of the “darker” hours of life after my husband’s death, I decided it was about time to try to wade through reading the Bible. (I have never been one to sit still and concentrate on all the “thees and thou’s” that the Bible seemed to consist of). A friend had given me a newer, “study” version that I was able to focus on, and I discovered great stories and a beautiful book that was a true joy to read.
One of the interesting things I discovered in the Old Testament was that each time these roaming people would settle briefly in a place they would build a temple to God…a kind of profession of their belief in a God. …What a novel and beautiful idea!
Somewhere with these things evolving in my brain, I decided it would be a fun and meaningful idea for me to build a tiny chapel here on the ranch, somewhat in the tradition of both my grandfather and those old Bible figures. Having always been a decent soul, but a very mischievous one, and certainly no saint, I thought that this might be a way that I could do my very small part in helping people touch into their “spiritual side”. I would build a tiny chapel where guests here could sit quietly, meditate a bit and hopefully contemplate the blessings of God as they experienced the beautiful countryside here.
I did lots of research on little churches, studying the arches, pitch of the roof, steeples, stained glass windows, etc.etc. What was supposed to be a tiny chapel evolved into a somewhat larger version, as this vision became a reality. I drew and re-drew designs for stained glass windows, finally coming up with designs I liked, and that hopefully communicated the messages I wanted to pass on. They were assembled by a lovely artist in Corpus, who helped me to choose each tiny piece of glass, particularly in the dove’s feathers to give the proper shading.
We originally placed the little chapel down in the grove of old oak trees below the headquarters. It was the perfect, serene location for quiet meditation; (but, we later discovered major dangers from flood waters from the Nueces River). It’s architectural design was quite an interesting concept on it’s own. It was built entirely of cypress, and has no nails in the basic structure. Designed around the corner supports and the large arches, the cypress clapboard was slipped piece by piece, into the grooves cut into these supports. Large doors are hinged like gates, so that they may be removed entirely or closed as needed. The tiny steeple is covered in copper that was applied by hand.
Multiple sources turned up other items. The chandelier and a wooden arch surrounding the front stained glass window are from churches in France, the cross from a French vinyard, and a huge church-bell came from the old Abbey on Lake Corpus Christi. The altar was hand-made from mesquite from our ranch, and is now slightly warped after it nearly floated away in a bad flood. (We leave it that way as a fun memory.)
After months of planning, this “widow woman” embarked on building this unique structure, blindly spending a small fortune building this structure with no real understood reason of exactly “WHY”! People would ask me “why”, and I could only respond that it was a “God thing”…?????
I dedicated it to my late husband, and named it after saints that stood for his favorite things. There were three St. Francises…one, the patron saint of the sea, one the patron saint of sailors. and one the patron saint of animals. He loved all three of these things, and thus, the perfect name. His favorite poem was “Sea Fever” by John Masefield, about the sea… “I must go down to the sea again….., and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”. Yes, it is that star that steers sailors on their journeys, as I hoped this might steer those who wandered into this chapel. What a lovely symbol to incorporate into the name, and with this the name was chosen.
The chapel was blessed by many different priests and ministers, we celebrated it’s christening, and so it sat happily until a dreadful flood hit just a year after it was built. The waters from the Nueces River rose to heights experienced only once in 92 years, intruding this sacred ground, and causing even the doors to float downstream, along with the altar, candlesticks and pews. (We did retrieve them all.) Needless to say, we were devastated; but, the waters retreated and so did we, with a lesson well learned. The sweet chapel was eventually moved to higher ground, nearer our home, with electricity, a concrete walkway and two large white arbors flanking the sides. Oak trees and gently sloping green lawns were planted, small carriage lamps grace the entrance and surround the chapel, and it is now safe and within much easier access than before. Suddenly the perfect wedding venue was created, not by purpose but by strange coincidences, and twists and turns.
Through the years many beautiful weddings have taken place here. Baptisms, retreats, family reunions and just simple contemplation and appreciation of Mother Nature and life all are parts of this beautiful “God deal”. I never imagined that this was the path that I was destined for, nor that this little chapel was possibly built for. But, the Good Lord certainly seemed to have had a beautiful idea, and it is a true delight to share the chapel, St. Francis Star of the Sea chapel with the hundreds of people who have joined us here. If even one person bends a knee, and experiences peace, love the Lord’s presence, then I guess it is serving in the spirit that it was intended. May you enjoy!