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HISTORY OF ST. PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHAPEL, 1902

Previously the land of the indigenous Creek Nation, the Magnolia Springs area was first colonized as part of a Spanish land grant. After the Civil War, the community became a popular destination for many of the soldiers who fought on both sides, and their families' descendants. In the years that followed, homes, inns and businesses sprang up along the banks of the Magnolia River. The water from the nearby natural springs was declared "the purest in the world" and the Magnolia River is recognized as an “Outstanding Alabama Water” even today.

   

Miss Gertrude Smith, a native of Illinois, moved to Magnolia Springs in the late nineteenth century. Finding no Episcopal church nearby, she began hosting Sunday School classes in her home. Mr. and Mrs. Otis Lyman donated land for a community hall and church near the turn of the 20th century. The community hall was constructed in 1894. Sunday School classes were held in the hall until a church could be built. Funds raised by Miss Smith, her sister, Ida Gates, and others in the community were used to build the present chapel. It was completed in 1902, with labor donated by those who would attend. The chapel’s architecture was influenced by the Late Gothic Revival and was built of heart pine, cut on-site. Handmade pews and simple furnishings completed the chapel. After construction, a rustic cross of magnolia leaves was placed high above the altar. The cross has remained untouched and is still in place today where it continues to mellow to a lovely aged patina.

 

The chapel was strongly built, able to withstand one hurricane after another, including a particularly violent one in 1906. In 1916, the building was placed on a strengthened foundation after another yet another hurricane caused some shifting in the structure. 

 

During the 1960s, the Episcopal Dioscese of Alabama considered closing the little chapel. The Rev. F. Stanford Persons pleaded to allow the chapel to remain open—and so it did. By the late 1990s, construction had begun on our new Parish Hall—with a fully equipped professional kitchen, classrooms, restrooms, offices, sacristy, and vesting room.  Blending seamlessly with the beautiful old chapel, the new addition looks as though it had been there all along.  It was dedicated on August 5, 2001. 

  

The chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Alabama Registers of Historic Places.    

Throughout its history, St. Paul’s has been served by more than twenty dedicated priests. Beginning as a mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, St. Paul’s became a full parish of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast in 2008.  In 2010, a beautifully landscaped Memorial Garden was added on the west side of the chapel.

   


The Cross Behind the Altar

   

In mid-August of 1915, the cargo/passenger ship, "Marowijine", sailed from Belize bound for the port of New Orleans. The ship was lost to a hurricane somewhere in the Carribean or the Gulf of Mexico. No one aboard survived, including a young mother and her 3-year-old son.

 

The cross on the altar bears the inscription:

In Memory of Bessie Ewing Jones, 1881-1915 and

Robert William Jones, 1912-1915

Lost on ship, Marowijine, August 14, 1915

Presented by her parents to St. Mark's Church, All Saint's Day, 1916

 

Seeing the cross on their altar surely brought some measure of consolation and acceptance to the family in the ensuing years. Somehow, the cross was lost until many years later. As fate would have it, 3 Episcopalians had a hand in recovering the cross and bringing to its present home in St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel. An antique shop owner discovered the cross in 1996. She rescued it and stored it for a decade at her home for safekeeping. In March, 2006, the cross was put on display at another antique shop. A week later, a member of St. Paul's was stunned to find it there. The cross was purchased and delivered to another parishoner, who meticulously repaired the cross. The craftsman would not accept payment for the extensive restortion work. 

The cross was presented to St. Paul's Chapel on Easter Sunday, 2006. Nothing is known of its wherabouts during the 90 years it was lost. It now adorns the Altar and where it is cherished and cared for the parish.

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