I was surprised recently when a good friend of mine told me that she and her husband had made plans for their cremation and placement of their ashes.
She told me that their ashes would be placed in urns that would be stored in the columbarium at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Glendale Springs in Ashe County.
The cremation was not surprising since now I have heard recently that over 60% of deaths are now handled by cremation rather than traditional burial.
But what was surprising was the choice of a columbarium.
Ashe County is quite a distance from where my friend and her husband now reside. She did tell me, however, there are short dedication services at the church when there are placements of urns into the columbarium. She also said there would be memorial services in her home for her and her husband as well.
My late husband, Clark Cox, being an Ashe County native, I was very familiar with this church and it’s history. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Mary’s Church in West Jefferson have become popular tourist destinations because of the frescoes in these churches done by Ben Long and his students.
Long, a native of North Carolina, who apprenticed in Florence, Italy, for eight years to learn the art of fresco painting (painting on wet plaster so that the mixed pigments are absorbed by the plaster) created “The Last Supper” fresco on the wall of the Holy Trinity Church in 1980. Along with 20 of his students, he completed the fresco in three months.
This church had opened in 1901 and closed in 1946 and fallen in disrepair until the late ’70s when a campaign was started to restore the church. It is now open to the public and services are held there almost every Sunday.
Local people were chosen to be models for Christ and the disciples including my husband’s cousin, Charles Earnhardt, who is well known as a carver of birds. He is the disciple left of Jesus Christ.
St. Mary’s Church stands close to my husband’s family home in West Jefferson. Long and his students completed three frescoes in that church: “Mary Great with Child,” “John the Baptist,” and “Mystery of the Faith.”
It is well worth a trip to Ashe County to see these impressive frescoes. It is interesting to note that this process was used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.