The chapel was inspired and commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who had been inspired in 1932 by the newly constructed Empire State Building to build such a church. After an attempt to do so in Budapest, Hungary (with the help of Lloyd Wright, son of noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright) was aborted due to the outbreak of World War II, she decided to build the church in her native region.
Richard Hein was chosen as project architect, and the design was executed by architect August K. Strotz, both from the firm of Anshen & Allen. The chapel is built on Coconino National Forest land; the late Senator Barry Goldwater assisted Staude in obtaining a special-use permit. The construction supervisor was Fred Courkos, who built the chapel in 18 months at a cost of US$300,000. The chapel was completed in 1956.
The American Institute of Architects gave the Chapel its Award of Honor in 1957. In the sculptor’s words, “Though Catholic in faith, as a work of art the Chapel has a universal appeal. Its doors will ever be open to one and all, regardless of creed, that God may come to life in the souls of all men (and women) and be a living reality.”
In 2007, Arizonans voted the Chapel to be one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of Arizona, and it is also the site of one of the so-called Sedona vortices.