A Shrine in the Mountains – Orkney Springs, Virginia (1936)

On the Feast of the Transfiguration, a brief story about an act of devotion at the foot of the Great North Mountain in the Shenandoah Valley of northwest Virginia.

In the mid-19th century, Orkney Springs was visited by people attracted by the natural springs of the area.

The Orkney Springs Hotel, an enormous and ornate wooden structure, accommodated throngs of visitors who “took the waters” in the area.

By the late 19th century, occasional services of the Episcopal Church were offered to visitors at the hotel.

The services were often led by Robert Atkinson Gibson, Bishop of Virginia.

In the years before his death, Bishop Gibson built a summer cottage at Orkney Springs, and instituted regular worship services in the community.

Eventually, he and his wife retired to the cottage.

Upon his death, his son-in-law, the Rev. Edmund Lee Woodward and his wife completed a Shrine of the Transfiguration on the property that had belonged to Bishop Gibson.

Set in a natural amphitheater, the open-air shrine was constructed of stone that local people pulled by horse or rolled by hand to the site.

At the dedication in 1925, the site was deeded to the Diocese of Virginia, although the Shrine is not supported by Diocesan funds.

The Woodwards purchased what had been the Orkney Springs Hotel (since called Virginia House), constructed additional buildings, and developed an impressive Retreat Center that continues to be used today.

(The historic structures related to the 19th century resort are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)

In August of 1936, Gertrude visited the Shrine and found it “a beautiful place”.

A postcard drawing of the rustic structures was mailed to Miss Ruth Smith of Baltimore, Maryland.

Gertrude promised to share the story of her trip with Ruth – ‘I’ll tell you all about it”.

It seems fitting that an unenclosed space, open to the mountains and the sky, should be consecrated to the mystery of the Transfiguration – when the veil dropped and the glory of the Divine was revealed.

One hopes that Ruth was also thrilled by the tale of Gertrude’s visit to the Shrine.


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