Boehm’s chapel captures the essence of the Alps
August 23, 2011
By Laurel Christensen
Correction: The chapel is a replica of one in Ilse Maria, not St. Moritz. Julius Boehm could not have seen the Swiss village chapel from Vienna, so he built a replica of the small church that he could see from his Issaquah chalet. The Moroder Studios’ “Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples” artwork inside the chapel was carved in Italy, unlike the chapel doors. Kirch’l is German for “little church” or “chapel.” The High Alpine Chapel is also known as the Luis Trenker Kirch’l or Luis Trenker Chapel. In addition, the only chocolates that are “discounted” are pieces considered to be “brokens” or “seconds.”
For their wedding last July, Sara and John Henry Bruner were looking for a small, intimate venue that was in their budget and fit their personalities. He happened upon the High Alpine Chapel online.
The unassuming website showed only one photo of the 48-person chapel in Issaquah, so the couple made an appointment to check it out. Sara recalled that her Sammamish-based mother wasn’t convinced a chapel on the grounds of Boehm’s Candies existed.
“So many people don’t know about our chapel,” said the Rev. Jeanne Dembeck as she jiggled open the chapel’s double doors, which were imported from Italy.
The unique European key design is one of Dembeck’s favorite parts of the building. The key itself doesn’t have teeth. It has little hole/nub things randomly placed on the flat part.
Dembeck relies mostly on word of mouth advertising to promote the High Alpine Chapel, although a Seattle-based travel agency does connect it with Japanese couples looking for a unique destination wedding.
“It isn’t really ritzy, but to me it is nice and casual,” Dembeck said.
And though it is just 20 minutes east of Seattle and right off Interstate 90, stepping onto the grounds of Boehm’s feels like entering another world.
On the outside, the nondenominational building is a replica of a 12th century chapel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, which still stands today. But on the inside, “It’s all Julius,” said Mindi Reid, a chief tour guide.
Julius Boehm, the founder of Boehm’s Candies, was born in Vienna and grew up with a view of the St. Moritz chapel from his bedroom window. He added the chapel replica to the grounds of his successful Issaquah candy shop in 1981 to memorialize fallen mountain climbers and to honor his mother.
“I think it was mostly his desire to see it again from his window,” Reid said. “You know, sentimental reasons.”
Boehm was an avid mountain climber, successfully scaling Mount Rainier three times in his lifetime, once at age 80.
“He had a passion for the mountains,” Reid said. “He was an Austrian and half-Swiss. Those are the reasons why the mountains meant so much to him.”
Boehm died at age 83, only months after his chapel was completed. He dedicated it to his good friend Luis Trenker Kirch’L and left his candy business to his employees.
Boehm had the chapel built around large rocks brought in from the Washington-Canadian border. He imported the bell from Switzerland. Most couples elect to climb the hidden staircase on the back side of the rock altar to ring the bell, signifying their union to all of Issaquah.
“We’re the only chapel with its own mountain inside,” Reid said. “I love people’s reactions when they open the doors. They realize they can climb the mountain and their faces light up.”
“It is the perfect photo opportunity,” Dembeck added.
Hanging from or painted on the ceiling of the chapel is a reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man,” painted by one of Boehm’s own talented candy makers. Behind the stone altar is a mural depicting a fallen mountain climber being raised up by Christ; imported sculptures line the back walls.
Since its opening, the High Alpine Chapel has been used for weddings, memorial services, concerts and baptisms. And while there are no reception facilities on the grounds, the cabin-like dressing room is almost as big as the church itself, containing a homey fireplace and a wide mirror that reflects the light of the windows.
Personal tours of the chapel are available any time by appointment with Dembeck, who has been chapel coordinator at Boehm’s for two years. She has been officiating at wedding ceremonies for 18 years, so when a friend of hers decided to step down, the transition went smoothly.
“I get a lot of joy out of it,” she said of working at the chapel.
She said that she takes care to bring a uniquely tailored ceremony to each couple, integrating personal details and anecdotes into the service.
The most rewarding part for Dembeck is when guests thank her for bringing out the personality of the couple.
“I feel honored to provide a reflection of them,” she said. “Since I write the ceremony, it feels good to know I got it right. That makes it worth it.”
As for Sara Bruner, the chapel was a place that fit her family. She had always wanted to get married in a church, but her husband wasn’t keen on a heavily religious ceremony. She said the chapel has “an almost churchy feeling” that “fit us both.”
“It is a special space, a unique world inside,” Reid added.
And while some say it is the discount on the homemade chocolate that makes this venue stand out, Reid puts it another way.
“I like to say it is like a little trip to the Swiss Alps without worrying about airfare,” she said.
Laurel Christensen is a former student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.