Approaching the juncture of Highway 115 and 49 from the north, just to the west of Mount Scott, the land opens up into a sudden flat plain surrounded immediately on all sides by rolling and cresting mountains. Here and there a longhorn or buffalo lazily grazes and tiny flashes of pale tan fur dart hither and yon between the low grass blades, an occasional small curious furry face popping up from the prairie dog holes to watch the passersby. Just to the northwest of this beautiful place, a handful of buildings, red rock like the landscape around them, and a gleaming statue are just visible in the distance.
Winding down the approach road, the white marble statue of Christ and the small cluster of rock buildings takes on more detail. This is the Holy City of the Wichitas, rock structures and a chapel born nearly a century ago from one of the country’s most popular passion plays.
Now on the National Historic Register, the Holy City began simply enough as a small scale Easter sermon and play presented in 1926 by Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock. The event was so well received it became an annual tradition and so grew in popularity that by 1935 the cast had grown to 1,200 people. In 1934, a WPA grant of $94,000 led to the building of the facilities still there today, including a chapel built to imitate the Christ Church in Alexandria Virginia where George Washington worshipped and various backdrop stages for the Easter service as well as a control room, dressing rooms, and rock shrines. In 1975, the eleven foot statue of Christ was erected in accordance with Reverend Wallock’s final wishes.
For over an hour, we explored every nook and cranny, climbing rocks, paths, and narrow antiquated stairs, getting just slightly sun burned and marveling at the unique structures and the lovely paintings inside the chapel. But in the building behind the chapel where photos of Passion Plays from the past are on display and the story of the Resurrection plays on loop, I got lost in the collection of memorabilia dating back over the decades of the Holy City’s existence, and eyes burning and misty, found myself overcome with emotion.
Assuredly, it was neither the Easter story recording on loop nor the antiquated fifties era mannequins adorned in biblical costumes behind bars in a sermon on Mt Sinai scene. It is the testimony of faith that leads people to build monuments to their own variety of the Divine, to show the world on the grandest scale their otherwise tiny lives can muster just how much a touch on their heart from the universe instilled in them the most deeply rooted faith. From the cathedrals and temples of the world to a red rock miniature city and chapel tucked away in an Oklahoma wildlife refuge, the force of faith that leads people to put a permanent mark in their legacy to the world just to show their own reflections of the face of God is one of the most beautiful acts mankind shares.