The History Of Precious Moments, Part 6: Hallelujah Square And The Precious Moments Chapel
The Precious Moments Chapel opened on a summer day in 1989. Since then, this peaceful sanctuary has provided inspiration and comfort to millions of faithful visitors from around the world. Located in the lovely Ozarks countryside of Carthage, Missouri, it represents a very important chapter in the history of Precious Moments. For Samuel J. Butcher, the founder of Precious Moments, the chapel is also a dream come true. Read on to learn about the fascinating history of Hallelujah Square, the challenge involved in painting the 1400 square foot chapel ceiling, and more.
In a previous post, we wrote about Sam's visit to Italy, his appreciation for the Sistine Chapel, and how that inspired the design of the Precious Moments Chapel.
The ceilings and walls are adorned with lovingly painted scenes of stories from the Bible, with characters represented in the now-iconic Precious Moments style, causing this awe-inspiring gem of the Ozarks to be referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of North America”.
“When I came to Missouri, I experienced what I consider a miracle. It happened in Carthage and the experience stayed with me, lifting me up even in the loneliest hours of my journey through the Chapel,” said Sam. “Ever since the Lord blessed me with the success of Precious Moments, I wanted to build a Chapel to glorify His name. So I did.” - Sam Butcher, the founder of Precious Moments
Sam Butcher Designs The Gates For The Precious Moments Chapel
1985 was an important year in the history of Precious Moments; it's the year that Sam Butcher broke ground for the Precious Moments Chapel. The physical design of the building is based on a chapel that Sam stumbled upon during his trip through the Italian countryside.
84 hand-painted murals and 30 stained-glass windows depicting stories from both the Old Testament and New Testament adorn the inside of the Precious Moments Chapel. However, as the building of the structure took place, and before a drop of paint was put on a wall, Sam began his work at the very front.
He designed the iron gates and the fence on a series of four paper napkins that he drew on while he drank tea in a coffee shop halfway around the world in the Philippines. The gate-maker was originally reluctant to take on the project due to its complexity; however, Mr. Butcher expressed his confidence in the craftsman and won him over. One and a half years later, 200 feet of this exquisite gate and fence was finished and shipped to Carthage. Sam Butcher's passionate determination has certainly played a big part in the history of Precious Moments!
The Entry To The Precious Moments Chapel: Designed For God's Glory
Approaching the Chapel entrance, visitors can see cast bronze plates adorning the building on either side of the entrance door. Each plate is nine feet tall by five feet wide and weighs more than 850 pounds. The plate on the east side represents the Old Testament, while the New Testament is represented by the plate on the west side. These magnificent tributes to God's holy words set a reverent tone for the entire Chapel experience.
Passing by the bronze plates, a massive, intricately-carved wooden door opens to the vestibule. While the gate was being made, Sam worked with his apprentice to hand-carve six richly detailed designs on each side of the three wooden doors of the Chapel. Made of narra, a heavy hardwood that is native to Asia and Africa, these doors took more than a year to complete.
Once the doors were in place, Sam was confronted with the enormity of his project. He felt overwhelmed when he looked inside at the tall blank walls and became depressed. During these times, Sam prayed to the Lord for the strength to carry on. When the Lord delivered that strength, Sam used it to tackle the hardest task of all - painting a large mural on the 30-foot high chapel ceiling. The angelic scene that Sam created on that ceiling is still one of the most beloved murals of all in the Precious Moments Chapel.
The History Of Precious Moments: Painting The Chapel Ceiling
Looking Upward Toward A Heavenly Sky
The painting of the Chapel’s ceiling was not an easy process. Neither was the creation of the rest of the Chapel artwork, as the artist suffered through discouragement and other difficulties. As Sam looked upward at his ceiling canvas, he knew that his art needed to cover 1,400 square feet and he knew he would need to complete the task while being more than 30 feet in the air, lying on his back on the scaffold.
While Sam painted the ceiling, his grandchildren created their own masterpieces on the industrial paper laid down below to protect the marble floor from dripping paint. More importantly, the exuberant laughter and silly interactions between the master artist and his “apprentices” filled the hollow room with life and love.
“I can truly say it was the Lord who enabled me to accomplish that part of the project,” Sam Butcher, describing his feelings about painting the 1400 square foot ceiling of the Precious Moments Chapel.
In the end, this project took every bit of three and half months to complete. Once he finished painting the ceiling masterpiece, Sam truly appreciated the scene of cherubic angels flying among beautiful clouds. The painting reminded him that angels were not only watching over the development of the chapel; they were watching over his grandchildren as they played inside the empty Sanctuary while he painted the rest of the murals.
A Perfect Imperfection: One Blue Angel
Today, Chapel tour guides are sure to point out a blue angel along the edge of the ceiling.
“I left a reminder of my belief it was only God’s grace that allowed me to finish the ceiling, in the form of a painted blue angel. I’d been working 18 to 20 hours a day for weeks and one exhausting night, feeling discouraged, I didn’t think I could carry on. I’d outlined an angel in blue and was preparing to paint in the flesh when I gave up and left the Chapel.
I prayed for divine strength so I could keep painting and my prayers were answered with a sense of energy filling me. When I returned to the Chapel, I chose to leave the blue angel unfinished as a reminder that this is where the entire project would have ended if not for the continued strength given to me by God. It is also a reminder that God is not finished with any of us yet.” – Sam Butcher
The Precious Moments Chapel: A Work In Progress
Since Sam has always seen the Chapel as his life’s work, he has always treated it as an ongoing project. Twenty-five years after he first painted the Chapel ceiling, Sam decided to repaint the clouds. The dark color bothered him, so he repainted the grey clouds with a lighter shade of violet.
To this day, visitors will occasionally find Sam up in the air making changes or additions to murals. The history of Precious Moments is bound to include more interesting chapters about the Precious Moments Chapel in the future.
The History Of Precious Moments: Sam Butcher Creates Hallelujah Square
Hallelujah Square: Heaven Through The Eyes Of A Child
The most beloved painting is the floor-to-ceiling mural at the far end of the Sanctuary known as Hallelujah Square. This glorious painting is twenty-six feet high, and serves as the focal point of the Precious Moments Chapel.
“ Heaven, as seen through the eyes of a child.”- Sam Butcher's theme for Hallelujah Square
Filled with depictions of people known to Sam, many of whom have passed on to their Heavenly home, it is truly a glorious sight to behold. In addition, Hallelujah Square is the only painting in the Chapel with Sam Butcher’s signature. This means that the painting is finished and will never be modified.
After he painted a white dove in front of his mother, the peacemaker in the family, Sam Butcher signed the painting in 2009, but he wasn't actually finished.
The founder of Precious Moments was not happy with his signature, so he wiped it away and signed it again. The next morning, Sam wiped away his signature again. He told the tour guide that he had lain awake all night; He couldn't stop thinking that his signature was too large. It seemed egotistical to him. After Sam Butcher signed Hallelujah Square carefully one last time, he felt satisfied at last. This third and final signature represents the "final" last change to this glorious painting.
Developing The Theme For Hallelujah Square
Since the painting looks perfect to those who’ve seen it, it’s difficult to believe it took Sam two years of contemplation before landing on the subject of the large mural. Sam knew this painting would be the first painting that visitors would be drawn to, due to its size and location. In addition, he wanted the theme of the mural to reflect his deep belief that within each of us is the hope of Jesus Christ.
Hallelujah Square speaks to many visitors on a personal level. This is especially true because the figures in this painting often remind people of their loved ones. In the Tim Ryan Memorial Room, visitors can read about the fascinating true stories behind many of the painting’s figures. Hallelujah Square is filled with rich stories, and we’re delighted to share one of those stories from the history of Precious Moments here.
The Founder of Precious Moments Recalls Stories of Hallelujah Square
Family & Rainbows Sam Butcher's Brother, Ray
Down at the bottom right of the stairs is a little fellow with a bucket of suds scrubbing the wall. This represents Sam's brother Ray. Ray Butcher took great pride in his lifelong work as a janitor for the public schools. When Ray spoke of retirement, Sam was inspired to rush off and paint this image. 20 minutes later, he returned to his brother, telling Ray that he'd given him a job for all of eternity! This image of Ray was the first living person painted into Hallelujah Square.
Memorable Moments With Sam Butcher
Sam Butcher reflects:
“I believe Hallelujah Square has the most beautiful message of inspiration in the Chapel. It represents this verse in the Bible where it says, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ I believe that is the message."- Sam Butcher
Sam Butcher's memory of painting the halo on Timmy the Angel is especially moving:
"There are many wonderful vignettes in this painting [Hallelujah Square], especially Timmy. There are a lot of children that have passed away, things that have happened, that I’ve included in that mural but Timmy the Angel at the gate welcoming a little girl is a special one for me,” Sam reveals.” I’d painted that mural, and continued to work on all the other murals, but it was probably about a year later I realized Timmy the Angel didn’t have a halo, so I called together those who had assisted me during the painting process and we had a little celebration where I painted the halo on Timmy.” - Sam Butcher
In addition, Sam smiles when he recalls this memory:
“When I was painting the waterfall in Hallelujah Square, the sanctuary was filled with people. I was so excited when I was painting the waterfall I unexpectedly dropped my brush and it fell to the ground. I was too shy to go down and retrieve it with everyone there, so I continued painting the waterfall using my fingers." - Sam Butcher
The Center Of Hallelujah Square
Finally, this moment in the history of Precious Moments brings it all into focus:
“With the building of the Chapel, I always wanted Jesus to be the center of all that would be accomplished. Sometime after I’d begun the painting of Hallelujah Square, I went to stand in the balcony of the sanctuary to get proper perspective on the mural, which was difficult to see when I was up close to it. It was at this moment I stood in amazement to discover I’d painted Jesus in the center of Hallelujah Square. Before I’d begun painting it, I’d prayed to the Lord to make Jesus the center of all I was creating. I knew then my prayer had been answered.” - Sam Butcher
Meeting Sam Butcher, The Founder Of Precious Moments
Many visitors to the Chapel hope to meet Sam Butcher, the founder of Precious Moments. Usually, this is not possible due to Sam’s travels and the sheer number of visitors. Once in a while though, Sam Butcher surprises visitors with his presence.
One day while he was painting the Chapel, Sam Butcher made his way to the garden for a short break. Wearing paint-splattered clothes as usual, the humble artist did not look like the founder of Precious Moments. A woman stopped him and asked Sam a simple question: "Are you a painter?" Sam’s response to her was just as simple: “Yes.”
As they sat together in the Precious Moments chapel gardens, Sam asked the woman if she liked the Chapel. She responded that she liked it very much, not knowing that she was talking with the founder of Precious Moments.
As the conversation continued, Sam invited his new friend to lunch at the Precious Moments Chapel restaurant.
After she said thank you to Sam for the pleasant meal, the woman said: “You know who I’d really like to have lunch with? Sam Butcher, the artist who created all this beauty.”
Sam replied with a smile and a handshake: “You just did.”
This is a cherished chapter in the history of Precious Moments. It's a moment that truly captures the deep humility and kindness of our founder, Sam Butcher.
The Ongoing Beauty And Inspiration of the Precious Moments Chapel
“I call the Chapel my life’s work. Many have asked when the Chapel will be finished. I can only say, perhaps never.” - Sam Butcher
Sam Butcher has only signed one mural since the Chapel opened nearly three decades ago. His inclination appears to be holding true.
The Precious Moments Chapel has provided beauty, inspiration, and comfort to millions of visitors through the years. In addition to the features we discussed in this post, there are dozens of murals, hand-made stained-glass windows and special rooms and additions. Sam created Philip’s Room and Timmy’s Tower in honor of two of his sons who have passed. He also created the Tim Ryan Memorial Room to honor all who have passed. These rooms are designed to comfort and inspire people with faith, hope and love.
Thank you so much for reading this blog post. We hope you can visit us soon at the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri!
Learn More About The History Of Precious Moments
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