PSS Winter '13


150 Years: Going to the Chapel

by Dominic Moore ’05

When Associate Professor of Art and Architecture Michael Tinkler leads students into St. John’s Chapel, he asks them to look up and discover a secret.

Rising above the altar, washed in the prismatic light of stained glass windows, the beautiful tracery supporting the glass holds a special meaning for observant students of medieval art. “They’re 14th century style,” Tinkler remarks. “They’re meant to look like windows 100 years older than the ones in the nave of St. John’s itself, which are 13th century.”

This is an interesting detail because St. John’s Chapel was built in 1862 and the tower added in 1962, a century apart. As Tinkler shows his students, this age difference was incorporated into the DNA of the building itself. Like the grand Medieval buildings the chapel emulates, construction could happen over the span of decades – even centuries – with the styles, forms and fashions of each era leaving its respective mark in turn.

St. John’s Chapel, marking its 150th anniversary in 2012, is one of the oldest buildings on the HWS campus. It was the work of Richard Upjohn, an English-born architect whose American career was as admired as it was prolific. Upjohn is noted for his work on Trinity Church, located on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, N.Y., and President Martin Van Buren’s home, Lindenwald, in Kinderhook, N.Y.

Upjohn’s work on St. John’s Chapel is a “nice example of Gothic revival,” says Tinkler. “It’s conscious of its European roots without being a copy. Upjohn was inspired by medieval buildings but adapted those forms for an American context.”

A century after its construction, the Chapel changed radically under the vision of Colleges’ President Rev. Louis Hirshson and through the efforts of architects Fredrick Woodbridge and Lewis Adams. During the early 1960s, the Chapel expanded to accommodate the growing ranks of Hobart students (who were required to attend chapel until 1968) and to serve as a vibrant symbol for the campus community.

“The lead item in the capital campaign from that time,” Tinkler says, “was the symbolic importance of connecting Demarest Hall, which housed the Colleges’ library, and St. John’s Chapel. It was the union of faith and learning, spirituality and academics.” The result was St. Mark’s Tower, completed in 1962, which brought the two buildings into a cohesive whole.

As a symbol, St. John’s Chapel is still a powerful one. On any given day of the week it is likely to be filled with the sounds of classical music as students use it as a performance space or dotted with individuals absorbed in quiet meditation. The Chapel retains its importance as a touchstone of campus spirituality and is an especially evocative space during times of crisis.

The Colleges’ Chaplain, the Rev. Lesley Adams, notes that during times of national tragedy, the Chapel serves as an oasis of peace and contemplation. “The night after the September 11th attacks, the Chapel was standing room only,” Adams says. “There was no announcement of a special service, it just happened organically. It was where people wanted to gather to find community.”

St. John’s is the centerpiece in a larger mosaic of campus spiritual life that continues to evolve.

Adams’ home, located next door to the Chapel, has also become a center for religious life. Through weekly events like Pasta Night in which students gather to make and share dinner at Adams’ home, students are given an informal opportunity to build relationships and discover a sense of place. At the Abbe Center for Jewish Life, residential living blurs with holistic spiritual practice through weekly Shabbat dinners.

Adams also notes the growth and success of the Campus Peer Ministry program, where students are “trained in interpersonal skills, learning how to deepen conversations, engage in self-reflection and communicate empathically with their fellow students.”

She also involves students in making a commitment to environmental awareness through participation in “Sustainable Saturdays,” when students, for example, make their own yogurt or visit local organic farms. “These activities go hand in hand with the Colleges’ commitment to service and social justice, helping students become thoughtful, engaged citizens.

Even though many of these activities happen outside the Chapel walls, they are part and parcel of the tradition of service and spirituality that the Colleges instill in their graduates. “St John’s Chapel is a symbol,” Adams says. “But it’s also more than that. It serves as the focal point of all those things we have woven into the fabric of this institution: service learning, concern for justice, an ethicallyengaged life. Our goal is not just to pray about those things but to embody them.”


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