I attended my friend Kyle’s wedding in Juneau, Alaska on Friday. It was held at the Shrine of St. Therese, in a simple Catholic chapel perched on one of the loveliest spots I’ve ever seen. I strongly recommend visiting it if you’re in Juneau. (Edit: Kyle’s left some more information about the shrine in the comments. You should check it out, as he answers some of my ponderments.)
The shrine is located outside of Juneau proper, about a half hour drive from the Westmark hotel in downtown. Take the main road past the ferry dock and the airport and Lake Auke and eventually you come to a labeled turn-off on the left. There’s a parking lot there, and you enter the shrine grounds on foot. It’s an easy walk, acceptable for the elderly and infirm.
Almost as soon as you leave the parking lot on the short, well-tended trail, you see buildings with log cabin exteriors. Judging by the restrooms, these buildings probably all had modern interiors.
The path branches in three directions. To your left the path leads to some gardens (which I ended up missing out on); to the right, there is a “mystical love labyrinth” and farther along is a colombarium. The path directly in front of you is an arrow-straight walkway leading to a small, wooded island.
That little island is where the chapel is located. A sign at the mainland end of the walkway points out that there are no restroom facilities on the island. I’m sure there are many practical reasons for that, but the island itself has such a serene, devoted feel to it that I found the lack appropriate for the place anyway.
As you approach the island itself, you’re greeted by two pillars, one on either side. I really only paid attention to the left-hand one. It appears to have held a plaque at some point, but no scrap of it remains.
The Chapel Island
Cool, moist air and tall, mossy trees abounded. I know, I know — that’s just like the rest of the Juneau area. Also like the rest of the Juneau area, the trees around the chapel create a quiet, meditative atmosphere. Whoever set the place up took advantage of the atmosphere, setting a number of small shrines to Christ around the chapel. As far as I could tell with my lack of education about things biblical, each of the mini-shrines depicts part of the story of Christ’s birth, death on the cross, and resurrection. Seeking all the little shrines out takes you full circle around the island and the chapel in the middle of it.
There is also a shrine dedicated to the victims of abortion nestled into the side of a small cliff on the back side of the island. I failed to get a picture of it, though. I forgot my camera when Ash, Patti, and I explored Juneau the day before the wedding, and I forgot to hit that little shrine while taking pictures the day of.
On the highest point of the island is a large, white cross. It’s interesting to look at; the whole shrine, both the island and mainland segments, is well-tended, but this cross is weathered. They could wash it off and repaint it, but they choose not to. There are also two lines carved into the cross near the crossbar. I forgot to ask one of the Catholics present what the significance of that is.
Behind me when I was taking the above picture was a rail to keep people from falling off the cliff into the sea. The view is nice, but slightly obscured by branches and generally poor photo material. Most of the island has no railings, but there’s little chance of people falling off in other places. You’d have to shove through trees and brush to get to the cliff edges.
At seemingly random intervals around the island, there are these things embedded in the ground. They remind me of manhole covers, but they’re clearly something else. They’re bolted in place and the cover is made of clear plastic. From the visible condensation on the underside, I figure they must connect to the sea somehow. Do they help keep the island stable, somehow? Keep it from disintegrating into nothingness? The drainspotter in me ponders, and the bubblehead in me forgot to ask when I had the chance.
There is one interesting wood formation on the island. To my imaginative mind, it looks like a camel in the process of falling over on its side. While this fits in with the rest of the island about as well as an actual camel in the middle of a city, I thought it fitting that a lit bit of nature’s sense of humor is allowed to poke through the solemnity of the location.
The Chapel and the Wedding
The chapel, as you may have noticed from the above photos, has a mortared stone exterior. Like the buildings on the mainland, the interior (and roof) are of modern construction. It’s pretty small. It was about perfect for the size of the wedding, though.
The flowers at the base of the statue of Mary were added for the wedding. More flowers were placed at the base of the cross pictured above, too, but that was after I took my picture of it.
The interior is as simple as the exterior. The decor is light in color and the whole thing was well-lit.
My camera died after I’d taken only a few pictures of the inside of the chapel, so I have none of the wedding itself. Four chairs were set up house left of the altar before the wedding started. The bride and groom each had only one person in their wedding party. It was a Catholic ceremony which only took about 45 minutes. The priest was a substitute for the usual priest at the chapel. I appreciated his acknowledgement of the fact that some people in attendance were not Christian when he spoke about the meaning of love and the significance of marriage.
The Rest of the Grounds
As I mentioned earlier, there is more to the grounds than the island the chapel is on. I never went to the colombarium, but I did check out the love labyrinth.
While definitely labyrinthine, it’s not a maze, as Ash discovered by going through the entire thing. It’s a pretty long trip, with the path wrapped around itself like it is. It’s intended as a medium for prayer and meditation.
Due to time constraints, I failed to make it all the way up to the garden, but I started along the path and took a couple of pictures along the way.