Brazil is famous for its sculpture of Christ the Redeemer, which stands at the apex of Corcovado Mountain and overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro. Malta boasts a barnacle-encrusted submerged statue of Jesus that gazes to the surface of the sea from the deep sand bed near St. Paul’s Islands. But few people know that northern Kentucky has its own historic effigy to the Son of God.
The Garden of Hope is a serene site of refuge and meditation in Covington. Visitors who travel up the gravel path to the top of the hillside will find an Italian-marble statue of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. The statue is part of a complex that includes a replica of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem, the stone Chapel of Dreams—which was modeled after a 16th century Mexican mission—and a carpenter’s shop filled with millennium-old tools.
Rev. Morris H. Coers of Immanuel Baptist Church in Covington conceived the idea for such a neighborhood garden. In 1938, the reverend had visited the Holy Land, and there, “he had a vision from the Lord to duplicate Jesus’ tomb,” says Rose Northcutt, a church member who now helps maintain the garden. In 1956, Coers sought a place to construct his vision and chose a 2-acre plot on Edgecliff Avenue in Covington’s west end that offered not only a private place for meditation but also a spectacular view of downtown Cincinnati. However, the property’s owner wanted $1,000, which Coers could not raise. It was then that the garden worked its first miracle. The reverend kept returning, asking for a lower price. “One day, the landowner said, ‘I’m so happy to see you, Reverend. Since I talked with you last, I’ve had this voice in my head saying, Sell the land,” relates Northcutt. “He asked Coers how much money he had on him at the time and sold the property right then for $5.”
Work began on the garden in 1956 with A.H. Armbuster employed to design the complex. Local artist LeRoy Coastes decorated the interior of the carpenter’s shop with a mural, while the chapel was adorned with a stained glass window taken from Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. “It took 700 steel rods and more than 300 tons of cement to build the tomb,” notes Northcutt. The surrounding landscaping features trees and shrubs native to the Holy Land, and one-time Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion donated the ancient tools on display in the carpenter’s shop. The Garden of Hope took two years to complete, officially opening to the public on Palm Sunday in 1958. In the early days of operation, it attracted visitors, and the Chapel of Dreams became a popular site for weddings, while the tomb was used by various denominations for religious events and Easter services.
Coers continued to provide the garden’s greatest support. When he passed away in 1960, he initially was buried in the garden before his remains were disinterred and buried at the Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell. After his death, his creation began to fall into disrepair. Coers’ widow attempted to donate the garden to the state, but the state declined to accept it. She then went to the city of Covington, but officials there also passed, saying there was no funding. Eventually, she donated the property to Immanuel Baptist Church. Today, it is supported by a nonprofit organization that consists of volunteer members of the church. “We are looking for help and donations all the time,” says Northcutt.
The Garden of Hope is open to the public for private prayer and tourism from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Guided tours are offered by appointment when weather permits; call Northcutt at (859) 750-5611 or (859) 491-1777 for reservations. But “it’s not like it used to be,” says Northcutt. “We still do a few tours a month in the nice weather and during Easter, everybody comes that knows about it.”