Discovering the founding of a Protestant denomination in the horse capital of Lexington

Cane Ridge Meeting House is where the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was founded.
Cane Ridge Meeting House is where the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was founded. | Dennis Lennox

Lexington may not be the Kentucky state capital but it does serve as the world’s de facto horse capital, thanks to its famed bluegrass.

Yet, I didn’t come for the horses. In fact, there is way more to see and do than horses and bourbon whiskey.

For religious travelers Lexington is home to a major landmark that you probably didn’t know existed.

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About 18 miles from the city proper and on the outskirts of Paris (much smaller than its namesake) is the Cane Ridge Meeting House.

From the aptly named Cane Ridge Road (also called State Highway 537) it looks like an otherwise nondescript church in the countryside. But this isn’t just another church.

This is where the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), one the country’s major Protestant denominations, was founded. While in rapid decline today the Disciples of Christ was hugely influential in the American religious landscape. And it all started here during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century.

The original late 18th century log cabin-style Cane Ridge Meeting House.
The original late 18th century log cabin-style Cane Ridge Meeting House. | Dennis Lennox

The handsome late 1950s limestone edifice isn’t the church. Rather, it’s a shell housing the original late 18th century church, a log cabin-style building.

To step inside is to take a time machine back to the earliest years of America. What you see — a simple structure in the vernacular architectural style of the frontier — is also similar to how the churches of countless other congregations would have looked as new settlements formed during the gradual westward expansion of the United States.

The interior of the Cane Ridge Meeting House.
The interior of the Cane Ridge Meeting House. | Dennis Lennox

Cane Ridge’s interior, which is cramped by the number of pews crowded into the space, is oriented toward the north wall with entrances at the east and west fronts. Against the north wall is a rostrum-style pulpit from which clergyman and Disciples of Christ founder Barton Warren Stone preached. Below it stands a simple table for the administration of the sacrament of communion.

Visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through the end of October with free admission, though donations are encouraged. There is also a small gift shop in a separate building on the grounds of the church.

If you go

I stayed at the Lexington Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, which is perfectly located on the outskirts of Lexington and only a short drive from the airport. For a downtown option consider the Lexington Marriott City Center when it opens in January 2020.

Lexington’s other historic attractions include Ashland, the estate of legendary antebellum politician Henry Clay. The Italianate-style mansion was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, best known for his monumental work in the nation’s capital. Downtown is also home to several notable churches: Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with its Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and Christ Church Cathedral, the oldest Episcopal congregation in Kentucky.

Spires and Crosses, a weekly travel column exclusive to The Christian Post, covers old churches, history and heritage, architecture, culture and art. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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