Religious and rock ’n’ roll destinations make beautiful music together in the Magnolia State
Mississippi is a state known nationwide for its piety. A cornerstone of the country’s Gulf Coast, “The Magnolia State” combines religious destinations and charming southern woodland into one: green forests of cypress and oak upstate, coastal bayou on its nubby panhandle where groups can visit centuries old chapels and churches.
But the reasons to visit Mississippi don’t stop there — religious travelers will also find fascinating destinations at the birthplace of a certain rock ’n’ roll legend, and a shrunken facsimile of the Holy Land as it was in Jesus’ time. No matter your group’s denomination, Mississippi provides unique landmarks and sights to see that are unlike anywhere else in the country.
Some of the Must-See Churches in Mississippi are:
- Church and Chapel at Elvis’ Birthplace
- Palestine Gardens in Lucedale
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church
- Rose de Lima Catholic Church
- First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson
- The Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church
Less than an hour’s drive from the state capital, Jackson, is the rustic community of Madison, home to The Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church. Tour the Gothic Revival chapel, consecrated in 1852 and restored from dereliction in 1976 — complete with a graveyard containing burial sites of the grounds’ original settlers, and constructors of Chapel of the Cross the Johnstone Family.
Be sure to come for the “Days in the Country” festival which takes place annually over the first weekend in October. Began in 1976 as a fundraiser for the chapel’s restoration, the fall celebration offers something for the whole family, including a barbecue competition, bake sale, arts and crafts, 5K race and children’s fun run, hayrides, beer and wine tasting, and a myriad of other activities and exhibits. (Keep the good eating going and take home the Chapel of the Cross cookbook, Day in the Country. Featuring 169 recipes and 100 photographs, the book offers a generous slice of Chapel history and culinary delights passed down through generations, including ones from Chapel’s own Heavenly Hogs Barbecue Team.)
Westward, where the Mississippi River needles a sinuous border with Louisiana in Claiborne County, is the First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson. This delicate white sanctuary and annex of a Romanesque Revival style dates back to 1859, making First Presbyterian the oldest church in the “Old Southwest” region of antebellum America — an area encompassing modern day Arkansas, Mississippi and portions of their neighbors. Crowning the chapel’s spire is the distinctive “Hand Pointing to Heaven” sculpture: a 200-pound iron fist extending an index finger to the sky — to God — above, coated in glistening German gold leaf. Originally carved of wood by a local craftsman, it was replaced with one made of sheet iron in 1901. The hand is a little over 10 feet tall while the index finger is four feet long.
Behind First Presbyterian, visitors may tour the remnant Brashear Academy buildings, constructed in 1857 as a finishing school for ladies. Presbyterian travelers to Mississippi may also what to visit the J.J. White Memorial Presbyterian Church in McComb, constructed in 1921.
Head south to Bay St. Louis along the coast near Louisiana to St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church to see an interior decorated with intricate frescos of Jesus and the Tree of Life. The history of St. Rose de Lima Church and a ground-breaking school are connected. In 1868, the first school in Bay St. Louis for African Americans opened in a two-story white building. In 1925, the school became St. Rose de Lima Church. These days it’s St. Rose de Lima’s moving, talented Southern Gospel men’s choir that has visitors talking. Previews of the impressive chorus can be found on YouTube, but there are no substitute for the real thing.
North of the panhandle in Hattiesburg is Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which hosts a Hispanic Ministry serving Spanish-speaking parishioners and churchgoers, in addition to their English services. Sacred Heart also offers a wide array of Catholic education programs for young children as well as teens and adults interested in becoming Catholic.
One of the most unique destinations Mississippi has to offer is the Palestine Gardens in Lucedale. Here are to-scale replicas (one yard = one mile) of a multitude of Holy Land sites and recreations of stories from the Bible. Nestled within the peaceful, enchanting Mississippi woodland, guided tours take visitors across the Jordan River to models situated as they would be on the map of ancient Judea, Galilee and Samaria. Behold Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jericho as Jesus would have, and experience visualizations of Jacob’s Well, Mount Hermon, the Salt Sea, the Herodium and dozens more in detailed miniature.
If the northern Mississippi city of Tupelo is known for anything, it’s known for The King himself: Elvis Presley. Visit the Church and Chapel at Elvis’ Birthplace in Tupelo, to see not only where the young rock-and-roller worshiped with his family, but also the home where he was born in 1935, a two-bedroom built by his father, uncle and grandfather. The campus is a stop on the Mississippi Music Trail, and supports a museum, theater and reflection pond. Indoor and outdoor event spaces are available for booking at Elvis’ Birthplace too, great for weddings, family reunions, corporate events and other group gatherings.
There is something for everyone in Mississippi: for groups who have particular interest in sites of faith, music, history, architecture — or all of the above. And with it all within easy, half-day-or-less journeys from Jackson, Memphis, New Orleans or Birmingham, Mississippi’s treasures are never far out of the way and accessible no matter where you begin your trip.
There’s still plenty more for travel groups to see in Mississippi, so for more ideas and travel information subscribe to Leisure Group Travel for FREE or Download a Digital Magazine for FREE
By Connor White