Grab your prayer book and let the spirit move you to some of Kentucky’s historic chapels and churches for guided (or self-guided) tours.
Two of Kentucky’s three basilicas, so designated due to their stature and significance, may be toured.
Covington’s St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, www.covcathedral.com, with its Gothic architecture and gargoyles patterned after the Notre Dame in Paris, features 80 stained-glass windows (including the world’s largest) and murals by Covington’s renowned Frank Duveneck.
Basilica of St. Joseph Cathedral, www.bardstown.com/~stjoe in Bardstown, whose cornerstone was laid in July 1816, was the first Catholic diocese west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Northern Kentucky confesses to a number of significant structures, including Mother of God Church, www.mother-of-god.org, near Covington’s MainStrasse Village neighborhood. Founded in 1841 with the help of 30 German families and built in 1871, the church is a celebration of artistry through murals, frescoes, stained-glass windows, and 110-feet-tall twin tower clocks. Also in northern Kentucky is the world’s smallest place of worship at Monte Casino Chapel, on the Thomas More College campus. Size? Six by nine feet.
Among its historic sacred sites, the Bluegrass region lays claim to two pioneer log meetinghouses: the 1791 Cane Ridge, www.parisky.com/caneridge.html, in Paris, thought to be the largest one-room log structure standing in the U.S.; and the 1800 Old Mud Meetinghouse, www.harrodsburghistorical.org/html/hhs_oldmud.htm, near Harrodsburg.
Louisville is a mecca of holy hot spots that includes the circa 1853 Gothic Revival-style Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church, www.louisville-catholic.net, gorgeous with its ornate frescos and statuary; the historic Cathedral of the Assumption, www.cathedraloftheassumption.org, one of the oldest cathedrals in continuous use in America; and Christ Church Cathedral, www.christchurchlouky.org, the oldest church building in Louisville and of English Medieval design, founded in 1822.
Although there is no officially designated “Hallelujah Trail,” Kentucky’s ecclesiastical cups overflow with enough historic religious sites to satisfy any spiritual-themed quest.
Central Kentucky is home to several geographic firsts this side of the Allegheny Mountains: Holy Cross Church in Lebanon, www.sf-hc.org; the circa 1784 Pisgah Presbyterian Church in Versailles, www.pisgahpresbyterian.org; and Loretto Motherhouse, www.lorettocommunity.org. First mass. First Presbyterian church. First religious order of women. The St. Francis de Sales Church, www.whitesulphur.cdlex.org, was built in 1820 in Georgetown but was established in 1793 by Catholic pioneers migrating from political and religious strife in Maryland.
In the southeast, there is Saint Christopher Chapel, (606) 672-2317, in Hyden that houses a 15th-century stained-glass window. Tompkinsville in Cave Country boasts the state’s oldest log meetinghouse at Old Mulkey Meeting House State Historic Site, www.parks.ky.gov/findparks/histparks/om; and Free-Town Church, www.monroecountyky.com, built in 1846 by freed slaves using logs held together by wooden pegs. The Southern Lakes region has the neo-Gothic John G. Begley Chapel and, in the western region, the thriving Amish community in Marion, www.marionkentucky.us, encompasses more than 600 residents and four church districts.
Both self-guided and guided tours are available at many historic religious sites. Contact the Kentucky Department of Tourism at (800) 225-8747 or online at www.kentuckytourism.com to request a copy of the Official Visitors Guide. The 2007 guide lists 30 religious sites, but there are many more in Kentucky, which can be found by contacting individual convention and visitor bureaus and tourism commissions.
More places to see the light
Bardstown Art Gallery & Thomas Merton Bookstore, www.thomasmertonbooks.com, highlights a unique collection of the world-renowned spiritual writer’s books among its stock of religious books and art.
Cathedral Basilica Books & Gifts, www.covcathedral.com in Covington offers rosaries, patron saint medals and statues, crucifixes, recorded sacred music, reproductions of religious works of art, greeting and holy cards, and souvenirs of the cathedral.
Christopher’s Bed & Breakfast is a deconsecrated church converted into inviting guest accommodations just steps from Bellevue’s Historic Fairfield Avenue Shopping District. Named for the patron saint of travelers, the century-old structure has three suites that charm with magnificent stained-glass windows, interesting architectural appointments, and Jacuzzi baths.
The Garden of Hope in Covington has a replica of the tomb from which Christ arose from the dead, the Chapel of Dreams—patterned after a 1620s Spanish Mission—and Carpenter Shop, which recalls the type of shop where Jesus worked as a boy.
The Old Church Museum in the 1700s village of Historic Washington in Maysville, www.washingtonky.com, features nondenominational religious artifacts, including four rondelles (rounded objects typically made of mouth-blown glass) that depict the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
The folks at Elk Creek Vineyards, Kentucky’s largest winery, often hear that the architectural design of their tasting room rivals those found in Napa Valley. With soaring timber-frame construction, topped by a green metal roof with cupolas designed to evoke Churchill Downs, a massive three-story stone hearth warming up with a leather sofa seating area and polished wood beams that reach up to vaulted ceilings, it exudes a sophisticated West Coast vibe. And the view is pretty spectacular, too.
“Elk Creek is set on a hill overlooking the vineyards, two ponds, and our outdoor concert stage,” says events planner and gallery manager Rebekka Seigel. With 200 undulating acres in the heart of rural Owenton, 30 of which are planted with grapes, the setting is as bucolic as it can be short of having cows lowing in the nearby pastureland.
The facility stays active throughout the year with music in the winery every Friday and Saturday evening, cooking classes throughout the year, and concurrent gallery showings that highlight regional artists, including Greg Seigel (Rebekka Seigel’s husband), who is the winery’s “official potter.” Seigel created the basins in the bathrooms, among other kiln-fired appointments, and shows his decorative bowls, platters, vases, and whimsical face jugs in the art gallery, where prices range from $18 to $500 per piece.
The winery is owned by Curtis Sigretto, who also founded the world-class Elk Creek Hunt Club shooting facility that includes archery and sporting clays and shares the same stretch of rolling Kentucky hills. Established in 2003, it came about, according to Rebekka Seigel, from Sigretto’s love of wine. Sigretto buys grapes from four Owen County farmers as well as from other farms in Kentucky; however, demand for grapes far exceeds the supply available. Sigretto is hopeful that more farmers will consider grapes as an alternative crop because he would certainly be interested in them.
Ben O’Daniel, a second-generation Kentucky wine maker, joined the burgeoning winery to create a menu of wines that includes 16 varieties, many of which have proved to be award winners: Sweet Owen Red, “Crazy Elk” Red Table Wine, Niagara White, and the Chardonnay-Artist Conservation Series, which showcases the artwork of wildlife artist John Ruthven on its label.
A destination winery, Elk Creek encompasses the vineyards, the impressive tasting room, a gift shop with a penchant for culinary arts items, an art gallery that favors regional artists, and a gourmet deli café. Handily located adjacent to the winery are upscale overnight digs at the five-guestroom Elk Creek Lodge.
As elegantly rustic as the tasting room, the lodge features a choice of four queen bedrooms, each with private bath and sweeping views of the vineyards and ponds. Guests may book individual rooms or the entire house. Rates include full breakfast, and guests can also enjoy lunch and dinner from the seasonal menu at the café.
Elk Creek Vineyards
150 Highway 330
Owenton, KY 40359
Tastings and Tours: $5 or $8 (depending on wines chosen) for five wine tastings. Winemaking tours available on request. Winery and café open Tuesday–Friday (call for hours). Valentine’s Weekend Massage Package, $800: overnight accommodations, massage class, his and hers massages, dinner for two.
Contact the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, 100 Fair Oaks, 5th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601, (502) 564-4983, www.kentuckywine.org, for more information about Kentucky wineries.
A sampling of other wineries:
Acres of Land Winery
2285 Barnes Mill Road
Richmond, KY 40475
Destination winery with tasting room, winery tours, restaurant, gift shop, picnic areas, wagon rides.
Chrisman Mill Vineyards
2385 Chrisman Mill Road
Nicholasville, KY 40356
The oldest winery in the central Bluegrass region produces its wines from Kentucky-grown fruit, plus made-with-wine vinaigrette, breads, dips, rubs, and dipping oils, available at area stores. Valentine’s Day Wine and Chocolate Extravaganza ($9.95/person) includes detailed pairing notes with four different wines paired with four different chocolate desserts.
Ruby Moon Vineyard & Winery
9566 U.S. Highway 41-A
Henderson, KY 42420
Wine growers Jamie Like and Anita Frazier planted their nearly six acres with French American hybrid and American varieties of grapes. Lots of wine-related gifts in the retail shop, and on September 13 they will host their first Ruby Moon Arts Festival.
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.