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The Methodist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA

A steeple points one to the heavens, symbol of the dwelling place of Christ. Through city streets, across the valleys and lakes, through the countryside far and wide, the steeple declares Christ.

I lift up my eyes to the hills
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2 NIV

Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed {the food,} and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples {gave them} to the crowds…
Matthew 14:19 NAS

We lift up our heart and hands Toward God in heaven;
Lamentations 3:41

The spire originated in the twelfth century, but America’s steeples are decended from those designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire began early on September 2, not far from the famed London Bridge, and spread quickly, overtaking everything in its path. Over four days the conflagration destroyed most of the city. Many famous buildings, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and 86 other churches (not to mention more than 13,000 homes), were destroyed, and the city smoldered for months.

The task of rebuilding many of these houses of worship fell to Wren, a young architect. Noted for his Oxford background as a mathematician and astronomer, Wren was commissioned by King Charles II to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral. In his design of St. Paul’s and about 50 other city churches he included steeples, leading men and women to turn their gaze toward God in his heavens.

Wren’s simple, straightforward treatment of the steeple quickly caught on. They were increasingly found on American churches, often with bells built in the tops. These bells served dual purposes, calling worshipers to services and summoning citizens for special announcements or emergencies. Early American steeples were usually made of wood.

Today most congregations have replaced their wooden steeples, which were showing the effects of time and weather, with beautifully designed steeples made from lightweight fiberglass or metal.

In terms of size and shape, steeples are as varied as the church buildings they accentuate. But even in their variety, steeples still serve their traditional purpose—to guide people’s eyes toward the heavens, to God himself.

Other works in the Cade’s Cove Collection:

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