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Worship at Beautiful Cathedrals and Churches
College and university buildings are well-known for their architectural brilliance, but places of worship on college campuses are in a league of their own regarding their beauty and grandeur. In this ranking, our editors share their take on the 30 most beautiful college chapels and churches across the United States. We present them here in no particular order.
#30 –Cadet Chapel
United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Constructed in 1962, Cadet Chapel was constructed in 1962 for the United States Air Force Academy. The building was designed by Walter Netsch in the modernist style. It stands 150 feet high and is 280 feet long and 84 feet wide. Cadet Chapel is known for its 17 spires and exquisite granite staircase at the front of the chapel. Inside, there are three separate worship areas, each with its own dedicated entrance, for services representing various faiths. In 1996, the chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-Five Year Award, and in 2004, it was named a National Historic Landmark.
#29 –Vassar Chapel
Poughkeepsie, New York
Built in 1904, Vassar Chapel is the primary religious building at Vassar College and the largest in the city of Poughkeepsie. Designed by Charles Coolidge, the chapel is an example of Norman architecture, and its exterior is made of seamed Cape Ann granite with sandstone trim. Distinctive features include five double wooden doors with iron hinges, a 3-story tower on the northwest corner of the chapel, and hand-carved woodwork among the organ case and choir rails. Weekly Catholic mass is held at the chapel, and it also serves as a space for spring and fall convocations as well as for weddings and memorial services.
#28 –Bowdoin Chapel
Designed by Richard Upjohn, Bowdoin Chapel was built in 1855 in the English architectural style. The chapel was originally built to hold church services but is now a non-denominational facility used primarily for weddings, concerts, and other special events and occasions. It is most well-known for its ornate murals featuring Biblical scenes as well as for its two towers, each nearly 120-feet tall. Another distinguishing feature of the chapel is its pews, which face one another. In 2004, the chapel underwent a $6 million renovation.
#27 –Battell Chapel
New Haven, Connecticut
Originally a Civil War Memorial, Battell Chapel was built in 1874 and is now the largest chapel on the campus of Yale University. The exterior of the chapel is made of New Jersey Brownstone and is accented by blue Ohio sandstone. Notable features of the chapel include exquisitely stained glass windows, the Battell Chapel clock, and symbols of the Greek Cross and the Shield of the Trinity. Sunday services for university students are held each week at the chapel, and it also serves as a concert hall.
#26 –Duke Chapel
Durham, North Carolina
Construction on Duke Chapel began in 1930, and today it stands at both the physical and religious center of Duke University. It was designed in the Collegiate Gothic style by architect Julian Abele and stands 210 feet tall. One of the most notable features of the chapel is its bell tower, which was modeled after Canterbury Cathedral’s Bell Harry Tower. The chapel is also home to three world-class organs and seats 1600 people. Although it has ties to the United Methodist Church, Duke Chapel is now an ecumenical Christian chapel.
#25 –Princeton University Chapel
Princeton, New Jersey
Construction on the Princeton University Chapel was completed in 1924. The edifice is made of Pennsylvania sandstone with Indiana limestone trim and features over 10,000 feet of decorative stained glass. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram in the Collegiate Gothic style, Princeton University Chapel was notably the host of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous sermons in the year 1960. As a nondenominational religious facility, the chapel hosts weekly ecumenical Christian services as well as daily Catholic masses.
#24 –Naval Academy Chapel
United States Naval Academy
Designed by Ernest Flagg, the Naval Academy Chapel was completed in 1908 and is one of two worship facilities on the campus of the United States Naval Academy. Among the many notable features of the chapel are two symbolic stained glass windows: one of Sir Galahad and the other representing the Commission Invincible. In 1995, the Naval Academy Chapel was featured on a U.S. Postal Stamp commemorating the Academy’s 150th anniversary. Beneath the chapel lies the crypt of John Paul Jones. Both Protestant and Catholic services are held in the chapel.
#23 –Basilica of the Sacred Heart
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
A Roman Catholic Church, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the tallest university chapel in the United States, thanks to its 218-foot bell tower. The chapel showcases 44 spectacular stained glass windows as well as intricate murals by Vatican painter Luigi Gregori. Inside the chapel is an exquisite Holtkamp organ featuring 2,929 pipes. Mass is held twice each day at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the chapel also serves as a stunning venue for alumni weddings as well as an honorable site for memorial services.
#22 –Madonna Della Strada Chapel
Loyola University of Chicago
Loyola University of Chicago’s Madonna Della Strada Chapel was designed by Andrew Rebori in the Art Deco Style. It was built on the pristine shores of Lake Michigan and opened in 1938. Amongst its most distinctive features are 14 symbolic stained glass windows. The seven windows on the north side of the nave are representative of the seven academic colleges that existed when the chapel was built while the seven windows on the south side of the nave signify the seven principal ministries of the Jesuits. The chapel’s last renovation was in 2007, and in 2008, it received a new organ—the Katheryn “Kay” Stamm Memorial Organ.
#21—Heinz Memorial Chapel
University of Pittsburgh
Construction on the Heinz Memorial Chapel began in 1933, and today it is a Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmark. The chapel was a gift to the University of Pittsburgh from Henry John Heinz, the founder of the H.J. Heinz Foundation, in honor of his mother, Anna Margaretta Heinz. Designed by Charles Klauder in the neo-Gothic Style, the chapel is made of gray Indiana limestone and features extensive use of glass. Heinz Chapel is interdenominational, and it hosts over 1,500 events a year including religious services, concerts, weddings, classes, and memorial services.
#20—St. Paul’s Chapel
New York, New York
Completed in 1907, St. Paul’s Chapel is an Episcopal chapel located on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University. Designed by I. N. Phelps Stokes, the chapel’s exterior is reminiscent of the Northern Italian Renaissance Revival style and is constructed of red brick with limestone trim and terracotta and bronze adornment. The chapel is interdenominational and holds over 600 religious services per year. In 1966, it was designated an official New York City landmark and has been called “Columbia’s most spectacular building.”
#19—St. Thomas of Villanova Church
Designed by Edwin F. Durang, St. Thomas of Villanova Church is a Roman Catholic church built in 1887. Its most notable feature is its twin Gothic Revival spires that have become symbols of Villanova University. Two windows enclosing the chapel’s nave depict the life of St. Augustine. Since its opening, the chapel has undergone two major renovations. It hosts three Sunday night masses for students and four weekend masses for parishioners. It also serves as a facility for both weddings and funerals.
University of Florida
One of the smaller chapels on our list, the Baughman Center on the campus of the University of Florida seats less than 100 people and is reserved for meditation and reflection. Designed by architect John Zona, the building was completed in 2000 and features a distinctive sloping roof inspired by medieval cathedrals. The exterior of the building is made of natural Florida cypress, and inside, the floor is made of three shades of travertine marble. In addition to serving as a meditation space, the Baughman Center also hosts weddings and memorial services.
Ithaca, New York
Sage Chapel is an interdenominational chapel designed by Reverend Charles Babcock, a Professor of Architecture at Cornell University. It first opened its doors to parishioners in 1875. In addition to serving as a religious facility, the chapel is also the final resting place of the university’s founders, Ezra and Andrew Dickson White. The interior of the chapel is rich in symbolism; the vine pattern on the floors and walls represent fertility, for example, whereas a set of interlocking triangles signify the trinity. Many notable speakers have spoken at Sage Chapel, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, and Carl Sagan.
Brunswick, New Jersey
Built in 1872, Sophia Astley Kirkpatrick Memorial Chapel was designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style. It is located on the Queens campus of Rutgers amongst some of the oldest buildings of the state university. In 1973, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For the first 30 years of its history, Kirkpatrick Chapel served as a college library and was also used for daily chapel services. Today, it is a nonsectarian facility that holds religious services as well as a variety of other ceremonies and events such as concerts, lectures, convocations, memorial services and alumni and faculty weddings.
Dedicated in 1950, Marsh Chapel was named for Methodist minister and former Boston University president Daniel L. Marsh. Although it is formally nondenominational, the chapel maintains strong ties to the Methodist Church. The building was designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram in the Gothic Revival style. It was originally intended to include a bell tower named for alumnus Alexander Graham Bell, but the structure was never erected.
University of Chicago
Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago was commissioned by patron John D. Rockefeller, and its construction spanned the years between 1925 and 1928. It was designed by architect Bertram Goodhue in the Gothic Revival style, and today it is the tallest building on campus, standing 200.7 feet high. The interior of the structure features 70 different sculptures as well as mosaics by Hildreth Meiere and wood carvings by Alois Lang. The chapel’s carillon, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, was donated in honor of John D. Rockefeller’s mother and is the second largest carillon in the world.
#13—Agnes Flanagan Chapel
Lewis and Clark College
Agnes Flanagan Chapel is a distinctive conical structure on the campus of Lewis and Clark College. Built in 1968, the chapel was designed by architect Paul Thiry and is heavily influenced by Northwest Coast Native American culture. The chapel’s stained glass windows were created by French designer Gabriel Loire and depict the creation story. It is also home to a Casavant Organ featuring 85 ranks and nearly 5,000 pipes. Visitors to the chapel are greeted by sculptures of the four evangelists alongside the bridge leading up to its entrance. Today, Agnes Flannagan Chapel seats nearly 500 people and serves as a facility for religious services, concerts, performances, weddings, and other ceremonial events.
#12—Stanford Memorial Church
Dedicated in 1903 and since nicknamed “MemChu,” Stanford Memorial Church is located on the Main Quad in the center of the campus of Stanford University. The church was designed by Charles A. Coolidge and has been called “the university’s architectural crown jewel.” Envisioned during the American Renaissance, the church is inspired by several different architectural styles, including Byzantine and Romanesque influences. The building has withstood two earthquakes and subsequent renovations in 1906 and 1989. It is notably one of the first non-denominational churches on the West Coast.
#11—Knowles Memorial Chapel
Winter Park, Florida
Dedicated on March 19, 1932, Knowles Memorial Chapel was designed by famous collegiate architect Ralph Adams Cram. Cram has called the chapel his favorite design compared to the more than 75 other churches and chapels on which he’s worked. Influenced by the Mediterranean Revival style, the chapel was a gift from Mrs. Frances Knowles Warren in memory of her father, Francis Bangs Knowles. Of its many distinctive features is a circular stained glass window at the rear of the chapel that symbolizes wisdom. In 1997, Knowles Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
#10—Fordham University Church
New York, New York
Fordham University Church, known as Old St. John’s, was constructed in 1845 but did not become a part of Fordham University until 1859. Today, it is the school’s central place of worship. The church was designed in Gothic Revival style by architect Reverend James Roosevelt Bayley and houses stained glass windows given to the university by King Louis Philippe I of France. A 1929 renovation expanded the church’s seating capacity from 400 to 1200.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dedicated in 1955, MIT Chapel is a small, windowless cylindrical brick structure designed by architect Eero Saarinen. Inside, the centerpiece of the chapel is a circular skylight that allows natural light to shine down on a marble altar. In 1956, a bell tower designed by sculptor Theodore Roszak was added to the chapel. The chapel is also home to a custom-made organ from the Holtkamp Organ Company. Today, the chapel is revered as a successful example of mid-century modern architecture.
University of Massachusetts—Amherst
Construction was completed on Old Chapel in 1887, and it was originally built to serve as a library and assembly hall. The building is a square granite structure with sandstone trim and a slate roof. Designed by architect Stephen C. Earle in Richardson-Romanesque style, the building was vacated in 1996 due to deteriorating conditions but has recently been renovated and now serves as an event space for lectures, seminars, concerts, theatrical performances, and the like. In 2015, Old Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Designed by J. Phillip Rinn in the Lombardic Romanesque style, Goddard Chapel is made of blue-gray slate and features a hundred-foot bell tower. Inside are cherry pews, pulpits, and ceiling ribs as well as oak floors and spruce paneling. The chapel’s magnificent stained glass windows were designed by Italian artist Tomasso Juglaris. Though the chapel originally held only Protestant services, it is now an interdenominational religious facility.
Built in 1916, Skinner Chapel was designed by Chicago architectural firm of Patton, Holmes, and Finn in the English Gothic Revival style. The structure of the building resembles a Latin cross and features a large bell tower. In 2015, the chapel underwent an extensive renovation. Today, it welcomes university students as well as the community at large to participate in interdenominational religious services.
Built in 1880 from local Ozarks stone, Stone Chapel is the largest stone structure in Springfield, Missouri. It was designed by architects Williams & Franklin in Mid-19th Century Revival style. The chapel houses the historic Chalfant Organ, which is still in use today. Once a site for compulsory chapel services for university students, Stone Chapel now hosts both religious and secular events for the school and community.
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Built in the late 1950s, Wait Chapel was named in memory of the university’s first president, Samuel Wait. As one of the larger structures on our list, Wait Chapel seats approximately 2,250 people. Among its various features is a 213-foot steeple as well as the Janet Jeffrey Carlile Harris Carillon, featuring 48 cast-bronze bells. Many notable speakers have visited Wait Chapel, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It has been the site for two presidential debates as well as a memorial service for poet Maya Angelou.
#3—Chapel of the Resurrection
The Chapel of the Resurrection on the campus of Valparaiso University was built in 1959 and has been called the largest collegiate chapel in the nation and the second largest in the world. Designed by Charles Stade and Associates, this modern chapel features a 98-foot circular chancel and an apse with a roof shaped like a nine-pointed star. It is also home to the Brandt Campanile, a 143-foot, 12-bell tower. The chapel hosts regular Lutheran services for students as well as secular events such as concerts, weddings, memorial services, and recitals.
#2—Chapel of St. Basil
University of St. Thomas
The Chapel of St. Basil on the campus of the University of St. Thomas is a striking structure made of white stucco and black granite and topped with a brilliant gold dome. The dome is said to represent the university’s Christian character. The west wall of the chapel dons a giant, slanted glass cross. Designed by architect Philip Johnson and built in 1997, the chapel is one of the newer ones on our list. It is located on the north end of the school’s Academic Mall on the opposite end from the Doherty Library. The arrangement of these buildings represents the ongoing dialogue between reason and faith.
Washington and Lee University
Lee Chapel is a Victorian brick structure built in 1868 at the request of Robert E. Lee, the university’s president at the time. It is a relatively small, brick edifice that seats roughly six hundred people. Inside, a statue of Lee graces the chapel’s center stage. Designed by Edward Valentine, the statue depicts the general asleep on the battlefield. Below the chapel is a crypt containing the remains of most of Lee’s immediate family. In 1963, Lee Chapel was added to the National Register of Historic Places.