At these colleges, the chapels stand out

Shaw Chapel at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Shaw Chapel at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. | Courtesy of Clancy & Theys Construction

Three colleges have chapels that stand out as superb examples of church architecture.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable is that all are relatively new, with the oldest dating to the 1960s.

Hillsdale College

Christ Chapel on the campus of Hillsdale College, a small but prominent conservative liberal arts college in the equally small Michigan city of Hillsdale, opened the doors to this traditionally designed edifice in 2019.

Designed by architect Duncan Stroik, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, the fifth iteration of the college’s chapel cost $28.5 million.

Stroik employed a neoclassical design with barrel ceilings, limestone columns and a Venetian east window in the interior. These features are instantly familiar to anyone who has ever seen the magnificent late 17th century or early 18th century London churches by Sir Christopher Wren, James Gibbs and Nicholas Hawksmoor. By contrast, the exterior, particularly the west front, looks very Roman Catholic — Stroik is a leading Catholic church architect — and is in keeping with his other works.

Regent University

Another timeless example of church architecture can be found at Regent University.

The Evangelical college in Virginia Beach, Virginia, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, features a Georgian-style chapel that, like Hillsdale’s, would be instantly familiar to anyone from the 18th century.

Inspired by the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, David Hardwicke designed Shaw Chapel, which was built nearly 300 years after Gibbs’ masterpiece.

While the interior employs furniture and fittings that look vaguely period, the ordering makes it feel like an auditorium. The only real hint that this is a sacred space and not a multipurpose hall is the stained-glass window depicting the ascension of Christ.

Air Force Academy

The chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a complete departure from the houses of worship at the other two colleges.

Built in 1962 to a design by Walter Netsch, an architect known for his brutalist style, Cadet Chapel’s focal point is its 17 glass and aluminum spires — his take on the spires of medieval Gothic architecture. Compared with some of Netsch’s other works, the thoroughly modern design actually works.

Notably, the chapel was designed to house three separate chapels with distinct spaces for the academy’s Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish faith communities to gather for religious rites. Protestants occupy the soaring nave on the main floor while in more recent years, additional space has been allocated for Buddhists and Muslim worship.

The chapel, reportedly the most visited building in all of Colorado, is closed for renovation until a projected public reopening in 2027.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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