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Rockefeller Memorial Chapel


Rockefeller Memorial Chapel
Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago Chapel, University Chapel


Structure in General

existing [completed]




  • The stained glass windows are among the largest in the world.
  • This was known as the "University Chapel" until 1937 when it was named for John D. Rockefeller by the university's Board of Trustees.
  • The carillon tower contains 72 cast bronze cup-shaped bells, the second largest such instrument in the world.
  • A majority of the deceased presidents of the University of Chicago have their ashes entombed in the niches behind the chapel's reredos.
  • The canopied pulpit is adorned with sculptures of an angel, ox, lion, and eagle, representing the four evangelists.
  • The design of the chapel is similar to that of Goodhue's Cadet Chapel at West Point.
  • The cornerstone was laid on 11 June 1926, and includes copies of letters from John D. Rockefeller, a photographic portrait of him by John Singer Sargent, and a copy of the university's 1926 yearbook.
  • Near the east transept door are images of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, along with the shields of Harvard and Princeton universities.
  • The chapel is used not only for ecumenical Christian worship, but also for guest speakers, teach-ins, musical programs, and occasional film screenings.
  • The associates of Bertram Goodhue who continued the design after the architect's death were commissioned by the university to design the Oriental Institute, which was built on the same block in 1931.
  • Rockefeller Chapel has held the funerals for Olympic athlete Jesse Owens and poet Gwendolyn Brooks.
  • The only larger carillon in the world is in Riverside Church in New York City, which was also a donation of John Rockefeller.
  • In his last gift to the university on 13 December 1910, John D. Rockefeller requested that $1.5 million go towards the creation and furnishing of a university chapel.
  • Carillon concerts are given during the school year at noon on Sundays and 6:00 p.m. on weekdays, and can be heard from several blocks around the chapel.
  • Part of the original stipulation for the chapel's plan required that no building on the university ever be built higher than the tower, which stands 207 feet above the street (200 feet 8 inches above floor level).
  • On the balcony parapet over the front doors there are 8 kneeling angels alternating with the coats of arms of 9 universities: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Northwestern, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford.
  • The E.M. Skinner organ in this chapel is considered one of the finest examples of a 20th century romantic organ.
  • The chapel was intended by Rockefeller to be "the central and dominant feature of the university" in order to proclaim that the university is "dominated by the spirit of religion".
  • The construction budget was restricted because of inflation after World War I, and to save costs the tower was moved in the design from the center of the crossing to the east side of the transept.
  • Speakers at the chapel have included Martin Luther King, Jr., William Faulkner, Jane Addams, Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, Jesse Jackson, and John Kerry.
  • The vaulted ceiling over the nave is decorated with over 100,000 pieces of Gustavian tile in a representation of St. Francis' Canticle of the Sun by artist Hildreth Meiere.
  • In university architect Henry Ives Cobb's 1892 plan for the university, the chapel was to be located on the east end of the main quadrangle, on the 58th Street axis.
  • The exterior is adorned with sculptures of Christian apostles and martyrs as well as Plato, Zoroaster, and others who express the chapel's mission of religious inquiry.
  • At the dedication on 28 October 1928 the official address was given by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., son of the chapel's namesake.
  • The stone figures under the south gable represent "the march of religion across the centuries", progressing from left to right with Christ at the peak.
  • At the time the chapel was initially planned in the late 19th century, university president William Rainey Harper called for it to be the "most beautiful ecclesiastical structure in the Mississippi valley.".
  • The architect Goodhue died before completion, and his associates placed a statue of him holding a model of the Cadet Chapel over the tower door.
  • In the main arcades of the nave, each unit of vaulting covers two bays in order to produce an impression of colossal size.
  • In order to avoid distracting from the interior decor, the stained glass windows are predominated by muted colors, especially mauve, amber, and periwinkle.

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More Information


5850 South Woodlawn Avenue
1190 East 59th Street
5850 South Woodlawn Avenue
Hyde Park
South Side

Technical Data

200.67 ft
200.67 ft
265.17 ft
120.13 ft
Jun 1926

Involved Companies

bell foundry, client, facade supplier, facility management, general contractor
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