Heart of Louisiana: The Rock Chapel

It seems like an unlikely landmark to find tucked away in the woods of Northwest Louisiana. Near the small community of Carmel is a small Catholic chapel made out of stones. It is the only remaining structure from a Carmelite monastery that was built on the site more than a century ago. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us into the woods of Desoto Parish to experience the rock chapel in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

Sometimes it's worth taking a road you've never driven before. Away from the highway, into the woods, where the hurry of life seems to melt away. As I reached the end of this gravel road, I found it perched on a hill: a little rock chapel. Just the trees, and this little church.

"In the 1880s, Carmelite monks built a monastery on this site. A few years later, a group of Carmelite sisters joined them, and they built a convent and a school for girls.  But those structures were all destroyed by fire a century ago.  Today, all that remains is the little rock chapel.

"My grandmother and her brother and sister went there," said chapel caretaker Lajuana Shaver. "It was a Catholic community at that time."

Shaver has the chapel key for anyone who wants to visit, and she keeps books with the thousands of signatures of people who have discovered this hidden gem.

"You'd be surprised where they come from - all over the world," Shaver said. "I had a man drive up to my house one day, and he was from South Africa, and he was looking for the chapel."

Fifty years ago, the chapel had fallen into disrepair. The roof leaked, the plaster ceiling and walls were cracked and peeling. And the original frescos painted by the monks were nearly lost as the walls crumbled. In 1960, the Catholic Diocese hired local artist Eugenie Manning to photograph and trace the artwork, and then recreate the paintings.

"First I had to paint - it just looked like curtains," Manning said. "Then I came back and put the stencil."

At age 90, Manning recalls the eight months she spent inside the chapel, recreating the artwork work of the monks.

"They would leave me here all by myself out in these woods," she said. "I really enjoyed it, because I love to paint and it was quiet. Sometimes leaves would blow across and it would sound like people walking. Sometimes a cow would come in and turn around."

Manning feels like she was able to restore the original designs - "I called it the bird of paradise," she said, and the religious seal painted above the doorway - "Roughly translated, it says 'I have much love for the Lord God.'"

Just as Manning helped bring the designs back to life, Shaver feels compelled to take care of the chapel.

"It's so peaceful and so quiet," Shaver said. "When you're having a bad day, sit on the steps down there, you know? It's just so wonderful."

And well worth the trip, down that gravel road, into the woods, to a place that still provides some comfort in a busy world.

The rock chapel about 7 miles northeast of the town of Mansfield. For more information, click here.