St. Luke's Episcopal Church is a well-rendered example of Carpenter Gothic, board-and-batten construction. It remains almost completely unchanged from the time it was first built. The carpenters hand-planed and built with old growth pine. Known locally as “Heart of Pine” and "Merritt Island Mahogany", this wood is astoundingly durable and resistant to termites.
In 1886 Mrs. Lucy A Boardman of Connecticut offered Bishop John Freeman Young money to build a series of churches on the central Atlantic Coast. Mrs. Boardman was obviously a woman of substantial means: in addition to funding St. Luke's church construction, she donated four acres of land to the Holy Trinity Episcopal church in Melbourne, built in 1886. In fact, New Haven Ave in Melbourne, FL (SR-192) was named in honor of her. Due to careful stewardship of the Boardman money, it allowed an extra church - St. Luke’s - to be constructed in 1888.
Under John Sams' leadership, the newly-acquired land was cleared and the men of the parish provided the labor to build the church, which we now refer to as St. Luke's Chapel.
The architect who designed St. Luke's is believed to have also planned St. Mark's church in Cocoa Village. He most likely based his designs on a template made by renowned architect Mr. Richard Upjohn. In 1852, Mr. Upjohn published a book of patterns for the design of Episcopal churches, rectories and schools for use in rural areas across the country. For 50-60 years, Mr. Upjohn's templates were the architectural designs used by many pioneer congregations. Mr. Upjohn happened to be good friends with Bishop John Young. They shared certain ideals for the Episcopal church, including a refocus, in both elemental design and worship, on the altar rather than the pulpit'.
The stunning jewel-toned stained glass windows are original. Meditative, entrancing and also symbolic, the windows stand for the Holy Trinity and also depict the elements of the Eucharist. The left window depicts sheaves of wheat (bread) and the right window shows a chalice flanked by clusters of grapes (wine), while the center window is a beautiful representation of the Cross.
At some point in time, these windows were raised a few feet because the congregation had difficulty seeing the priest when sunlight streamed into the church. (The sanctuary faces east; the front door faces west.)
In the days before air conditioning, the 12 side windows swung out from the bottom to increase air circulation. These windows are made of Victorian-era "bubble glass" and are all original except for one pane, easy to distinguish due to its lack of texture. During services the front door remained open, again, to capture the slightest breeze.
The open windows and doors let in insects as well as any breath of air. Far worse than today, mosquitoes were a terrible and ever-present annoyance. In order to minimize the pests, people - known affectionately as "mosquito beaters" - stood outside the door and used bundles of dry grass and palm fronds to brush mosquitoes off the congregation as they entered. Other creatures took advantage of the open front door: There are tales of wild turkeys, peacocks and even the Crisafulli's dog, Demetrius, occasionally joining the services.
Just to the left as you leave the sacristy and step into the altar area are two of the few original pieces of furniture in the chapel: the Bishop's and priest's chairs. Notice the rustic simplicity of these majestic seats, their overtly hand-carved, handmade appearance. On both sides of the top of the seats' backs, you can see the Star of David. It is a convention of the Episcopalian faith to recognize and affirm that its tradition has grown out of the Jewish faith.
Across the altar area are some other original furnishings: the cupboard on the wall, called an ombrey, and two small tables - one to hold the Order of Worship and the other to hold the elements of communion (the bread and wine.) When the candle above the ombrey is lit, this signifies that leftover, or reserve, consecrated bread and wine, are stored there. The reserve bread and wine are used when communion is taken to those who are too ill or infirm to attend church.
The altar used to be flush against the front wall. When the priest prepared communion, his back was toward the congregation. This is still the configuration in some Episcopal churches today; however, in the 1970's, the St. Luke's congregation decided to move the altar forward so that the priest might always face the congregation.
The chapel was wired for electricity in the 1940's, and that is when the fans were mounted on the walls to help with air flow and cooling. We can assume this prevented most winged and four-footed local creatures from coming to church!
In 1990, St. Luke's Chapel and cemetery were placed on the National Register of Historical Places. In 2001, parishioners came together to repair structural damage to the chapel caused by sinking foundations and water intrusion.
A Chapel Restoration Committee was formed. Thanks to a matching grant of $5000 from the Florida State Division of Historical Resources, parishioners came together once again to provide for the historic chapel.
Engineers were hired to shore up the foundation. Virtually every parishioner, pitched in to clean, dust, sweep, and to polish pews and also to work on landscaping outside the chapel. Interestingly, a photograph taken in 1956 of the wedding ceremony of Mr. Fred Woelk and Mrs. Pat (Sams) Woelk provided much-needed information about the chapel's original appearance, including the design of the carpet and communion rails.
On January 25, 1978 the little old church was designated as the chapel. St. Luke’s chapel was used, and is still today, for lectures, small weddings and funerals.