Beginning with the idea for an interfaith chapel at Grand Canyon as early as 1917, it wasn’t until 1952 that Shrine of the Ages Chapel Corporation was formed, plans were drawn up, and fundraising started.
The corporation was composed of representatives from Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant services, and was approved by the National Park Service because it offered the opportunity for all religious faiths to have a place of worship. The idea was to build a permanent building near a site on the canyon rim already used for services, including a very popular Easter Sunrise service.
Harold E. Wagoner, a member of the board of directors of the Church Architectural Guild of America, was selected as architect. Working within park service guidelines to respect the natural environment and Native American culture, he designed a structure that reflected the architectural style of a kiva, a place of worship used by Native Americans in the Southwest.
Because the initial building site was on the rim of the canyon just west of today’s Hermits Rest Route shuttle stop, plans called for the main auditorium to have a sweeping canyon view from a multi-story, curved window placed behind the altar.
A special hydraulic lift would raise and lower at least three different altar configurations for Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant services. An organ placed on a small balcony, with wind chests and pipes located at different sections of the main chapel, would provide stereophonic sound effects.
Even as fund-raising efforts reached around the world, questions about whether the rim was an appropriate location for the structure resulted in delays. Some even argued that the building only remotely resembled a kiva, instead looking more like a huge spacecraft perched on the canyon rim.
Donations were never quite enough to realize Wagoner’s plans, so federal funding became involved. The building was ultimately redesigned and relocated away from the edge of the canyon. An appropriate site was chosen next to the existing Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery, and the Shrine of the Ages was completed by 1970.
Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery
First used before the establishment of the national park but not formally dedicated until 1928, the cemetery serves as a resting place for many early Grand Canyon families and pioneers. The cemetery—part of the Grand Canyon Village National Historic District—has more than 390 individual graves, several of which date back to before the establishment of the park and the dedication of the cemetery.
In January 1919, John Hance would become one of the first residents to be buried in what would be late known at the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery. The location of the cemetery would fit a common pattern among young communities in the American West, placing the cemetery a mile or so outside the Historic Village. The American Legion Post dedicated the cemetery on May 30, 1928. The current design of the cemetery, however, was not established until 1938 when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) surveyed the grounds and put in reference markers and gravel paths.
People interred at the cemetery include Grand Canyon pioneers, war veterans, tribal members, and employees of the concessionaires, US Forest Service, and National Park Service. The cemetery, grave markers, and gateway arch are included on the List of Classified Historic Structures in Grand Canyon National Park.
After nearly 100 years since its opening, Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery offically closed to new burials in 2017 due to lack of space. Although the cemetery is closed to new plots, some burials may continue for individuals with a spouse or immediate family already interred in the cemetery.
Originally, to qualify for burial, an individual must have lived at Grand Canyon for no less than three years or must have made a significant and substantial contribution to the development of, public knowledge about, understanding of or appreciation for Grand Canyon National Park.