Not a Wedding Chapel
“ST. FRANCIS STAR OF THE SEA CHAPEL”
Most people think that with the romantic outdoor Texas weddings hosted at Knolle Farm & Ranch, that the little white chapel, that is the heart of festivities, was built for the purpose of having country 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 South Texas wedding venue….Read on if you will….it’s a bit of a long story; but, fun to share! This lovely outdoor chapel was the product of many influences, and a bit of Texas history. It was, as I say, “A God deal” that evolved! Growing up, my mom told stories of the little country chapel on the family ranch where she grew up in Lampasas county. (It was not unusual for ranch-owners to build a chapel where they and employees could profess their faith. My grandfather, William Wittenburg, felt it his obligation to encourage the faith of his ranch hands; therefore, once a month he took off to Temple, Tx., (a 60 mile jaunt), with horse and buggy, retrieved the priest and brought him to the ranch to say mass for the family and employees. I grew up thinking what a lovely idea this was.
With life, came “life’s” up and downs, including the loss of my husband, Charles Knolle Jr., in 1997. This sad reality brought me a better understanding of a “deeper” purpose for life; so, back to that fun Texas tradition that was a part of my family. During this rough period, I decided it was time to try to wade through reading the Bible. (I had never been one to sit still and concentrate on all the “thees and thous” that the Bible seemed to consist of). With this new “investigation” I discovered great stories and a beautiful book that was a joy and inspiration to read.
In the Old Testament I discovered stories of these roaming people settling briefly in different places, and, at each place, building a temple to God, a sort of profession of their belief in a God. …What a novel and beautiful idea, I thought!
Somewhere with these things rumbling around in my brain, I decided it would be a meaningful idea for me to build a tiny, country 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 white chapel where guests here could sit quietly, meditate a bit, and hopefully contemplate the blessings of God as they experienced this beautiful South Texas ranch, and the countryside here.
I did lots of research on little country churches, studying the arches, the pitch of the roof, steeples, stained glass windows, etc. This tiny white chapel evolved into a somewhat larger version, as this vision became a reality. I drew and re-drew designs for stained glass windows, which hopefully communicate the messages I wanted to pass on. Assembled by a lovely artist in Corpus, who helped me to choose each tiny piece of glass, they are a lovely part of this endeavor.
As life would have it, there have been good times and bad, including the loss of my husband, Charles Knolle jr., in 1997. This sad reality brought me a better understanding of a “deeper” purpose for life; so, back to that fun Texas tradition and history that was a part of my family. During this rough time, I decided it was time to try to wade through reading the Bible. (I had never been one to sit still and concentrate on all the “thees and thou’s” that the Bible seemed to consist of). But, with this new “investigation” and study, I discovered great stories.
Originally placed in the grove of old oak trees below our Knolle Farm & Ranch 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, as it is built with no nails in the basic structure, the clapboard just slipping into place into grooves in the large vertical supports. Large doors are hinged like gates, so that they may be removed or closed, as needed, and a 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 vineyard, and the 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 it, 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 this Texas country chapel to my late husband, and named it after saints that stood for his favorite things. There were three St. Francis…one, the patron saint of the sea, one, the patron saint of writers, and one, the patron saint of animals. He loved all three of these, and thus, the perfect name. His favorite poem was “Sea Fever” by John Masefield.… “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 help steer those who wandered into this lovely little country chapel. What a beautiful symbol to incorporate into the name, and with this the name was chosen – St. Francis, Star of the Sea Chapel.
This Texas chapel was blessed by many different priests and ministers, and so it sat happily until the next year when the Nueces River rose to heights experienced only once in 92 years, thus 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 lovingly picked up and moved to higher ground, nearer our home, given electricity, a real 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 much easier to access than before. Suddenly the perfect Corpus Christi wedding venue was created, not by purpose but by strange coincidences, and twists and turns.
Through the years many beautiful Texas outdoor 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 country chapel was possibly built for. But, the Good Lord certainly seemed to have had a beautiful idea, and it is a true delight to be able to share the chapel, St. Francis Star of the Sea Chapel, with the hundreds of people who have joined us here. In my heart, I feel that if even one person bends a knee, and experiences peace, love the Lord’s presence, then I guess this country chapel is serving in the spirit that it was intended. May you enjoy, and God bless and keep you!