We spent a few days driving around the Ozarks, enjoying the beautiful hills, forests and rock formations. It really is very scenic country. One of the recommended destinations in the Ozarks is Eureka Springs, a lovely historic city that’s terrific to explore on foot. An obvious stop in Eureka Springs is to visit Christ of the Ozarks and the Great Passion Play site which overlook the city. Our visit was before the season for the Passion Play began (we visited in early April), but the grounds were open for visitation, with no admission fee.
Christ of the Ozarks
Sitting atop Magnetic Mountain is a gigantic white figure. The statue, sculpted by Emmet A. Sullivan, is of Jesus Christ and it’s massive — seven stories tall and weighing about 540 tons. Its face is fifteen feet long. The arms have a spread of sixty-five feet and the silhouette suggests the crucifixion (although there is no cross).
Christ of the Ozarks is one of five giant statues of Jesus in the world and reminded me somewhat of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (although the setting of the latter is hard to beat). From the proper angle, Christ of the Ozarks can be seen at a distance of 20 miles. Rumor has it that if the statue had been built any taller, it would have needed a red flight warning beacon on its top.
The statue sits on a solid foundation of concrete and reinforcing steel built directly into the underlying mountain. It’s designed to withstand tornado force winds. The statue was built entirely by hand, with no premanufactured sections, and is made of twenty-four layers of white mortar interlaced with a steel skeleton. It was completed and dedicated in 1966, and was the first main attraction built for the Great Passion Play site (the play itself opened 2 years later).
The statue’s construction and site on which it stands were funded by Gerald L.K. Smith, who had searched the country looking for a place that would allow its construction. Smith was a somewhat controversial character who bought the 167 acres that is home to Christ of the Ozarks and the Passion Play site. The property is also the burial place of the Smiths; it seems appropriate that this place which was so important to them should be their final resting place.
Christ of the Ozarks is either loved or hated by those who see it. Many find the likeness is rather stiff and “lifeless”. Others are inspired by it. Like most religious structures and shrines I’ve seen around the world in my travels, I believe it was built by spiritual people of deep faith.
The Great Passion Play
A drama telling the story of the Passion of the Christ — the phase of Jesus’s life starting with Palm Sunday, continuing with his trial, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven — “The Great Passion Play” in Eureka Springs is styled after that of Oberammergau, Germany. It’s performed outdoors on a multilevel 550-foot-wide stage to a crowd of up to 4,100, with a caste of hundreds and many live animals. It is said to be one of the most attended outdoor dramas in America — since its opening in July 1968, over seven million people have attended. I think it would be an interesting drama to watch and certainly the setting is beautiful.
Tickets are very reasonably priced — a family of six can attend for around $50. The Passion is performed four or five nights a week from the first week of May through the end of October.
The grounds includes other attractions and an assortment of buildings built to resemble those of Biblical times, collectively known as “Sacred Projects”, including a Bible Museum and a Sacred Arts Center. There are mountain biking trails, a children’s play area, and Noah’s Ark Petting Zoo.
The Church in the Grove is a small country church more than a hundred years old that was moved to the grounds of the Passion Play in 1986, where it was refurbished. It is a popular venue for small weddings.
An original ten-foot by ten-foot section of the Berlin Wall was erected next to the Church in the Grove. Words from the 23rd Psalm are inscribed in German on it, “Though I walk through the dark valley, I will not fear.”
We enjoyed our visit and if we came again would make a point of seeing the Passion Play.
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