This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Covington's Garden of Hope. Less than 10 minutes from downtown Cincinnati, it's an outdoor sanctuary featuring a replica of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, which is believed to be Christ's burial chamber.
It's a great place to visit for a sense of peace and spirituality, regardless of one's beliefs; a non-denominational, memorial park where you can touch faith.
"It's a blessing to anyone who ever goes there," says Rose Northcutt, of Fort Wright, who serves as trustee, treasurer and one of the garden's tours guides. "When you go there, it's like being in Jerusalem because of the way everything looks and the scenic view."The Rev. Morris Coers was inspired to bring a piece of the Holy Land to Kentucky after his trip to Jerusalem in 1938. Solomon Mattar, the caretaker of the original tomb in Jerusalem, helped oversee its construction.
Set on a 2.5-acre plot of land, the inspirational attraction is like a lovely abandoned garden. It's in disrepair, with fallen leaves strewn about and loose stones among the paths. But this doesn't take away from the garden's beauty or the serenity it offers.
A winding stone path, which goes up the front of the hill, serves as the garden's original main entrance. But some of the stone steps are loose here, so it's easier to enter directly from the parking lot.
The carpenter's shop, modeled after St. Joseph's shop, is a small stone structure that sits at the front of the garden. It contains more than a dozen historic tools - some dating to 500 years - from the Holy Land, donated by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. The upstairs is currently being renovated.
Just beyond the shop is an Italian marble statue of Christ's Sermon on the Mount, with a simple, 30-foot wooden cross standing behind it.
A short walk away from the statue lays the garden's tomb - a replica of the tomb of Jesus Christ. If you stand back while facing the tomb, you can see the statue of Christ and the cross beyond it, as if both are hovering above the tomb.
The garden's third structure is the Chapel of Dreams, a stone chapel based on the design of a 17th century Spanish mission. Outside, above its large wooden door there are three bells, which are rung after the garden's somewhat infrequent weddings.
Throughout the garden, there are several relic stones displayed in decorative wrought iron cages that sit atop small stone pillars - a stone from the River Jordan and another from the Good Samaritan Inn.
In recent years, the Garden of Hope church and its volunteers, who operate and look after the garden, have struggled to keep it open. Vandalism is also a costly problem.
The small Southern Baptist congregation has been using the carpenter's shop for church services for four years.
"We're getting it back to where it was 50 years ago...to restore it to its original beauty. It was neglected for a long time," says Rev. Ed Kirkwood of Ludlow, pastor of the congregation formerly known as Immanuel Baptist Church, which owns the property.
Wooden benches are placed throughout. Plants in the garden include a Juniper Sargenti tree, which is the Algum tree referred to in 11 Chronicles 2:8.
Open since 1958, the garden sits on a hilltop along side the cut-in-the-hill on I-75, offering a majestic view of Covington and downtown. Even with the sounds of the nearby highway, the garden is serene.
"We're looking to (make expansions), such as building an inspirational gazebo for weddings and quiet reflection," says Kirkwood.