When you think of college campuses in the United States, you might picture libraries, lecture halls, and sports fields. But most colleges and universities were founded on a set of religious principles. In many cases, one of the first buildings built on campus was a church.
These cathedrals are masterpieces of architecture, rich with history and splendor. They are more than just places of worship; they are landmarks of beauty and history that add a special charm to their campuses.
When building this ranking, we took into account factors like student programming, campus architecture and aesthetic. The tradition and history of these cathedrals were also taken into account as well as community outreach. Please enjoy our picks for the 20 most impressive college cathedrals in America.
Summary of the Top 10 Most Impressive College CATHEDRALS
- Stanford Memorial Church
- Basilica of the Sacred Heart
- West Point Cadet Chapel
- United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel
- Sage Chapel
- Saint Ignatius Church
- Vassar Chapel
- Christ Chapel
- Alice Millar Chapel
- Perkins Chapel
20. Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart
Georgetown University – Washington, D.C
Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart is located at the historic center of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Dahlgren Chapel was built in 1892 and is named in honor of the son of John and Elizabeth Dahlgren, prominent benefactors of Georgetown University. Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic university in America. So, it stands to reason that Dahlgren Chapel is affiliated with the Jesuit branch of the Catholic Church.
This neo-Gothic masterpiece was the first building on campus to be funded entirely by an outside philanthropist. The red brick exterior features a large arching entryway. It has a bell tower that is topped with a cross. The bell first hung in a church that was a part of the original British colony of Maryland. The interior has 4 large stained-glass windows. There is one each at the front, back, and both sides of the church. Below the impressive wooden altar is the resting place of John and Elizabeth Dahlgren, along with their son, Joseph. There is a soaring vaulted ceiling that is crossed by large, wooden arches.
While Dahlgren Chapel only seats 300 parishioners, there are many services throughout the week to accommodate everyone. There is a daily mass for students held at noon, Monday through Friday, during the school year. There is an open mass every Sunday, along with Catholic sacraments and confession held at various times during the week. Weddings had been suspended at the chapel for quite some time. Now, it is a very popular wedding venue for alumni of Georgetown University. Georgetown’s annual Advent and Christmas Concert, held in Dahlgren Chapel, is a beloved tradition that brings together students, faculty, staff, and alumni to celebrate the holiday season.
If Dahlgren Chapel looks familiar, the exterior is shown in several scenes of the classic horror film, “The Exorcist.”
19. Stauffer Chapel
Pepperdine University – Malibu, CA
Stauffer Chapel is another architecturally unique chapel. Situated on one of the higher points on the Pepperdine campus, it gives spectacular views of the campus, surrounding hills, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Dedicated in 1973, Stauffer Chapel, also called the “Chapel on the Hill,” was named in honor of the Stauffer family, longtime supporters of Pepperdine University. The chapel’s architectural design reflects the California Mission style. It features a white stucco exterior and is designed in the shape of one long arch. The center of the roof contains a large spire.
The most iconic feature of the chapel is the large stained-glass windows. The front and back chapel walls are almost entirely made of stand glass that reaches from the ground to the roof line. The windows, made by the Blenko Glass Company, are made up of 125 different colors. Complimenting the front and back walls are six arching stained-glass windows lining the sanctuary. There are 3 of these magnificent windows on each side, totaling 3,000 square feet of stained glass. When the chapel was first built, it contained the largest collection of stained glass in the western United States. The beautiful stained-glass wall behind the altar faces the Pacific Ocean. It is called the “Tree of Life” and features the image of the Bible at its center.
Stauffer Chapel was once a highly desirable location for weddings. The architectural grandeur and scenic views outside made it the perfect location for couples to celebrate their special day with a magnificent backdrop for photos. As of 2019, the university discontinued wedding services for various reasons.
Stauffer Chapel is affiliated with Churches of Christ. It is a non-denominational church but has deep roots in traditional Christian values. The chapel works with local churches, providing Bible studies for the student body. All students at Pepperdine are required to take three religion classes to graduate.
The 600-seat Stauffer Chapel religious services, family programs, concerts, lectures, and other cultural events. Each year during the holiday season, the chapel holds special services for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Other time-honored events include a 9/11 memorial service, Convocation ceremony, baccalaureate services, graduations, and Christmas tree lighting.
18. MIT Chapel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Boston, MA
Probably the most unusual and smallest of collegiate chapels is the MIT Chapel. This 150-seat cylindrical structure was designed by the renowned architect Eero Saarinen. The chapel was opened in 1955 and is 50 feet in diameter and 30 feet tall. It has no windows and is surrounded by a moat. There is a tall aluminum spire and bell tower on the roof.
Despite its small size and relatively minimal design elements, the interior is absolutely striking. The interior walls look like waves of bricks that seem to be almost in motion. There is an opaque skylight above the altar with a cascading metal sculpture that hangs from the ceiling. The metal strands reflect the sunlight, giving the altar the appearance that it is being teleported toward heaven. The walls of the sanctuary contain small slits that allow natural light to filter through. The light is reflected from the moat outside, giving a rippling effect to the interior walls.
The chapel has a custom-designed organ built by Walter Holtkamp. In 1970, musician and MIT alumni Ned Lagin performed an organ work he wrote specifically for the chapel. The concert attendees included Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Lagin was invited to be a member of the Grateful Dead and toured with them for the next 5 years.
The MIT Chapel does not belong to any religious denomination. The Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life must approve groups who want to use the chapel for religious services. The chapel is also used for the initiation ceremonies of sororities and fraternities. Members of the MIT community may use the chapel for weddings, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs, and memorial services. The MIT Chapel is open for public tours for two hours each day as long as no events are taking place during scheduled tour times.
17. Rockefeller Chapel
University of Chicago – Chicago, IL
Rockefeller Chapel is an impressive example of neo-Gothic architecture designed by Bertram Goodhue. The 207-foot tower soars above the church and stands out among the other buildings on the University of Chicago campus. Dedicated in 1928, Rockefeller Chapel was made possible through the generous donation of John D. Rockefeller Jr. It houses the second-largest carillon in the world. The only one larger is located at Riverside Church in New York City. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. also donated it. The chapel’s exterior is punctuated with intricate stone carvings, beautiful stained-glass windows, and numerous spires.
The interior is equally impressive with its majestic, vaulted ceiling. The intricate woodwork found throughout the chapel is the work of master woodcarver Alois Lang. The sanctuary contains 70 sculptures integrated into the walls. It also houses a massive Skinner organ.
The chapel is used for ecumenical worship services. It hosts university convocations, guest speakers, musical programs, weddings, and memorial services. The chapel even holds the occasional film screening. The entire building is so large that it occupies almost an entire campus block and can seat 1,700 people.
Rockefeller Chapel is home to various enduring traditions and annual events. The weekly Sunday morning worship service features the renowned Rockefeller Chapel Choir. There are daily carillon recitals during the school year. They occur at noon and 5 pm every weekday. Rockefeller Chapel has a yearly vocal artist-in-residence program. Famed vocal soloists spend one year at the chapel performing regular concerts. The chapel also hosts weddings, providing couples a beautiful venue for their special day. Additionally, it serves as the site for the university’s convocation and graduation ceremonies.
16. Heinz Memorial Chapel
University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA
The Heinz Memorial was a gift to the University of Pittsburgh from Henry John Heinz, founder of the H.J. Heinz Company. He wanted to honor his mother with a building dedicated to her at the university. Upon his death, Heinz’s three children donated the funds to build a chapel in honor of their father and grandmother. They chose to have the chapel built to honor their grandmother’s values of education and religion.
The chapel’s design reflects multiple architectural styles, including French and English Gothic Revival. This striking structure features intricate woodwork, a majestic pipe organ, and a soaring 73-foot vaulted ceiling. One of the centerpieces of the chapel is the 23 beautiful stained-glass windows. Charles J. Connick designed them to depict 391 sacred and secular figures. The figures represent religion, history, medicine, science, and the arts. The 73-foot transept windows behind the altar are some of the tallest in the world. There are two 800-pound doors at the entrance of the church. All the woodwork in the church is solid oak.
This 1,000-seat chapel hosts between 170 and 190 weddings. Despite its size, the chapel holds over 1,500 events yearly that over 100,000 people attend. Besides its regular schedule of church services, the chapel hosts many concerts throughout the year. The Heinz Chapel Choir is a group of student singers who regularly perform here for worship services and public concerts. Every Sunday evening, there is a worship service that is entirely sung by the chapel choir. Other services are held mainly for those of the Catholic and Lutheran faiths. Daily tours are provided throughout the year.
The Heinz Memorial Chapel stands as a monument to the values of the Heinz family and that of the educational and spiritual goals of the University of Pittsburgh.
15. Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Sacred Heart University – Fairfield, CT
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit was dedicated in 2009 and serves as the spiritual center of Sacred Heart University. Designed by renowned architect Simeon Bruner, the chapel features a modern and innovative design. An 80-foot-tall bell tower is a striking feature near the church entrance. Its massive bells toll every hour to call university members to prayer.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit has a unique structure. It is designed to evoke the image of the nomadic tents of the ancient Israelites. The white interior is meant to give the impression of being inside a tent. The interior and exterior designs are fused to bring the parishioner the feeling of journeying closer to God.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition. The colorful mosaics that line the sanctuary are meant to create spaces of prayer and to help members of the congregation feel like they are strongly connected to their Catholic roots.
Despite its small seating capacity, the church is vital to religious and community engagement on campus. It hosts church services, concerts, and lectures. It is a popular venue for weddings and baptisms. Although it may not have centuries-old traditions like some of the older churches that have been featured, it is an integral part of the Sacred Heart University community.
14. Wait Chapel
Wake Forest University – Winston – Salem, NC
Wait Chapel was completed in 1956 and named in honor of Martha and Henry E. Wait. It is the first structure built on the Reynolda campus of Wake Forest University. Wait Chapel is a fine example of mid-century modern architecture. Designed by architect Thomas S. Lambeth, the chapel features a striking A-frame structure that can seat over 2,200 people. The chapel’s elegant simplicity and contemporary design offer a welcoming and tranquil space for worship and reflection.
The chapel has a striking exterior boasting a 213-foot spire and a grand entryway containing classic white columns. It has a large organ and a 48-bell carillon. The interior has large arching windows that allow natural light to flow into the sanctuary. The white walls and ceilings with wooden seats and accents give the room a large and bright feeling.
Wait Chapel is affiliated with the Baptist tradition but embraces its Moravian roots. The beloved Lovefeast is one such tradition. The first Wake Forest Lovefeast dates back to December of 1965. Two hundred students gathered to celebrate the traditional meal consisting of a sweetened bun and creamed coffee. It is now the largest Moravian-style lovefeast in North America. The service features music from the Wake Forest Concert Choir. There are songs and scripture readings, and everyone receives a handmade beeswax candle decorated with red paper. The beautiful glow of the candles enhances this timeless experience.
Wait Chapel has hosted significant historical events. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the chapel in 1962. President Jimmy Carter made a major National Security address here in 1978. Wait Chapel has hosted two presidential debates. The first was between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. The second was between candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore. A private memorial service was held for Dr. Maya Angelou in June 2014. The ceremony was attended by Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey.
One of the first same-sex commitment ceremonies in the U.S. was held in the chapel in the late 1990s. It created quite a bit of controversy, which was covered in the documentary “A Union in Wait.”
13. Princeton University Chapel
Princeton University – Princeton, NJ
Princeton University Chapel is located on the picturesque campus of Princeton University. It stands as an enduring symbol of faith, education, and architectural grandeur. Its rich history, traditions, and cultural significance make it a revered institution within the Princeton community.
Dedicated in 1928, Princeton University Chapel boasts stunning Gothic Revival architecture. It was designed by the renowned architect Ralph Adams Cram. The chapel’s exterior features elegant spires, intricate stone carvings, and a breathtaking rose window that adorns the entrance. Inside, the chapel showcases magnificent stained-glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and a majestic organ. The chapel captures the essence of a medieval cathedral.
The interior of Princeton Chapel could be a museum. It contains memorials to former faculty, students, founders, and university benefactors. Stained-glass windows, pews, hymnals, communion cups, and even the walls are engraved memorials. The windows in the sanctuary are dedicated not only to important members of the university but also to important figures in American history. John Witherspoon was the sixth president of the university and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is pictured in the Great South Window. The figure of James Madison is depicted in the Window of the Law, near the chapel entrance.
The pews are made from the wood of Civil War gun carriages. The pulpit is from France and dates back to the mid-16th century. The wood for the pews where the choir and clergy sit came from Sherwood Forest in England. It took 100 people over a year to carve them. There are numerous statues representing musicians, scholars, and clergy from the church’s history.
Princeton University Chapel is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. It also provides services for all other faiths practiced by the Princeton student body.
This 2,000-seat venue is one of the largest collegiate churches in America. The elegant beauty and charm of the chapel make it a popular wedding venue. It is the home of solemn events like memorial services for alumni, faculty, and friends of the university. A Service of Remembrance is held each year for members of the campus community and alumni who lost their lives during the year. The annual Christmas Eve service is a cherished event that draws students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community together to celebrate the holiday season.
12. Battell Chapel
Yale University – New Haven, CT
One of the most iconic buildings at Yale University is the Gothic Revival, Battell Chapel. It was constructed in 1874 and designed by noted architect Russell Sturgis. The chapel was built as a Civil War Memorial and named after the father of a prominent local businessman. The exterior is built of New Jersey brownstone. There is a tall chime tower that would ring every 15 minutes but has remained silent since the 1970s. There is also a grand spire that dominates the New Haven skyline.
One of the most prominent features is the stained-glass windows surrounding the sanctuary. Each window memorializes the people who were important to the university’s history. The interior is a mix of brownstone and blue sandstone. The mix of wood accents and the blue-painted ceiling add to the beauty of this magnificent chapel.
Battell Chapel is affiliated with the United Church of Christ but is open to all faiths. The chapel hosts interdenominational services, including:
- Sunday Worship
- Jewish high holiday services
- Muslim Iftar meals during Ramadan
- Buddhist programs
- Monthly meetings of Yale’s evangelical Christian groups
Although there is seating for only 750 parishioners, the chapel is also used for concerts by campus ensembles, several local orchestras, and two concert bands. Battell Chapel hosts hundreds of events each year. These include campus events, lectures, concerts, and cultural programs.
The chapel plays host to the Service of Morning Prayer. This is held daily during the academic year. It provides students and community members with spiritual reflection and renewal. The chapel is also the backdrop to Yale University’s annual Baccalaureate Service.
Battell Chapel is a testament to Yale University’s commitment to nurturing the intellectual, spiritual, and cultural growth of its students, staff, faculty, and community members.
11. St. Paul’s Chapel
Columbia University – New York, NY
St. Paul’s Chapel is located on the Columbia University campus. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in New York. It was established by a charter from the King of England in 1754. The chapel was a gift from sisters Olivia and Caroline Stokes. Completed in 1907, St. Paul’s Chapel is a masterpiece of neo-Gothic architecture. The renowned firm of Howells & Stokes designed the chapel. The firm was chosen because the nephew of the two sisters was architect I.N. Phelps Stokes.
The building is clad in red brick and limestone to match the style of other buildings on campus. What sets this building apart are the yellow and white marble highlights. The green ceramic tiled roof contains 16 arched windows and is topped with a lantern.
The interior is a mix of impressive stone and woodwork. There are grand archways and bronze chandeliers. One of the unique features of the ceiling is the pink clay tiles arranged in a herringbone pattern. There are 16 stained-glass windows throughout the church designed to complement the color of the tiles. The sanctuary houses an organ that is considered one of the finest church organs in New York City.
St. Paul’s Chapel is affiliated with the Episcopal Church but is open to individuals of all faiths and beliefs. It serves as a place of worship for the Columbia University community. The chapel welcomes students, faculty, staff, visitors, and members of the local community. The chapel’s commitment to inclusivity reflects Columbia’s diverse and welcoming environment.
Despite its ability to seat 350 individuals, St. Paul’s Chapel hosts hundreds of religious services, campus events, lectures, and musical performances throughout the year. The chapel’s beauty and exceptional acoustics make it a preferred location for weddings and cultural events.
St. Paul’s Chapel is home to several annual events that hold special significance for the Columbia University community. One such event is the Blessing of the Quads, which takes place at the beginning of each academic year. During this ceremony, the chapel clergy blesses the four quads on campus, fostering a sense of unity and reflection among students and faculty.
10. Perkins Chapel
Southern Methodist University – Dallas, TX
Perkins Chapel at Southern Methodist University is an iconic symbol of faith, community, and architectural elegance. This gorgeous example of Georgian architecture was opened in 1951 and designed by architect Mark Lemmon.
The brick and stone façade of Perkins Chapel features a grand entrance with columns. The church has a large spire that seems to reach into the sky. The chapel’s interior exudes a sense of tranquility. It has simple white walls and columns that are accented with brown wood. The vaulted ceilings and ornate chandeliers give the feeling of warmth and classic charm.
While affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Perkins Chapel welcomes individuals of all faiths and backgrounds. It is the home of the SMU Wesley Foundation, the campus ministry for United Methodist students.
Despite accommodating only around 475 people, this intimate setting is the perfect backdrop for worship, weddings, memorial services, and various campus events. Known for Its exceptional acoustics, it is a perfect venue for musical performances, lectures, and cultural events. One of its most popular events is the yearly Candlelight Service during the holiday season. This annual tradition features scripture readings and choral performances reflecting the Methodist church’s traditions and values.
Perkins Chapel remains not only a place of worship but also a symbol of SMU’s commitment to education and intellectual and spiritual growth.
9. Alice Millar Chapel & Religious Center
Northwestern University – Evanston, IL
Built in 1962, the Alice Millar Chapel was made possible by a generous gift from Foster G. McGaw. It was named in honor of his wife, Alice S. Millar. Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes designed this Modernist and Gothic marvel. The striking exterior features a soaring steeple, grand arches, intricate carvings, and beautiful stonework. The interior boasts a breathtaking sanctuary with vaulted ceilings and soaring stained-glass windows that fill the space with radiant colors.
The Alice Millar Chapel is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It is the home of Northwestern’s Wesley Foundation, the campus ministry for United Methodist students. The chapel welcomes individuals of all religious backgrounds and beliefs. It hosts various religious services, interfaith gatherings, and community events, reflecting its commitment to a diverse and inclusive spiritual environment.
The 700-seat Alice Millar Chapel is not only a place of worship but also a venue for significant campus events, including concerts, lectures, and ceremonies. The chapel is the site of Northwestern’s annual Baccalaureate Service and the Winter Interlude. This beloved tradition boasts a series of concerts and artistic performances during the holiday season.
8. Christ Chapel
Gustavus Adolphus College – St. Peter, MN
Christ Chapel is one of the more unique-looking college chapels in America. Completed in the fall of 1961, it held its first service to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the campus opening. Architect Ralph Rapson designed it and features elements of modernist and Scandinavian design. The exterior walls are shaped like spires and shafts to emulate the movement of prayer toward heaven. The downward movement represents revelation moving toward earth. The windows and lighting are designed to make the chapel look like it glows from within at night. The white exterior reflects the light of the sun in the morning. Leo Mol designed the magnificent stained-glass windows. The windows create beautiful hues of light on the interior walls as the sun shines through.
Christ Chapel is a 1,000-seat venue that hosts Lutheran worship services and special events. Although the church was founded in the Lutheran tradition, some interfaith services exist. It is also the venue for significant campus events, including concerts, and lectures.
One of the most beloved events is the yearly Christmas in Christ Chapel concert. For over 50 years, the annual concert features:
- Gustavus Choir
- Choir of Christ Chapel
- Christ Chapel Ringers
- Gustavus Symphony Orchestra
- Lucia Singers
- Gustavus Dance Company
The Chapel is not just a place of worship. In the spring of 1998, it became a beacon of hope for the local community. The town of St. Peter was hit with a devastating tornado. It caused massive destruction to the campus and local town. People lost their homes, and several buildings on campus had to be torn down. The chapel became an operations center for FEMA to assist people in getting back on their feet. The chapel provided services for food, clothing, and support programs. Christ Chapel reflects the values and dedication of the school’s Lutheran traditions.
7. Vassar Chapel
Vassar College – Poughkeepsie, NY
Vassar Chapel, nestled within the prestigious Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, is a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture. James Renwick Jr. designed the church that was built in 1904. The stone exterior is highlighted by its red roof and archways that line the building.
The sanctuary has a vaulted wooden ceiling that is crossed by beautiful wooden arches that spring from carved, stone pillars. Ornate wooden pews, a large pipe organ, and a carillon give this church a beautiful rustic look. It sets the scene for quiet, reflective, and spiritual moments.
Although the chapel only has seating for approximately 1,300 people, it is still one of the largest venues to hold events on campus. Vassar Chapel remains an inclusive space, hosting various religious services. It includes Christian denominations, interfaith gatherings, and other spiritual events. It also serves as a main lecture hall and concert space. Important campus events, such as graduations and weddings, are held here.
Over the years, the chapel has lost some religious influences but has hosted many prominent figures and performers. These include:
- The Pittsburgh Symphony
- Leonard Bernstein
- Nina Simone
- Earth, Wind, and Fire
- Poet Audre Lorde
- Comedian Dick Gregory
Rev. Howard Thurman, a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had delivered the Baccalaureate services in the chapel.
6. Saint Ignatius Church
University of San Francisco – San Francisco, CA
Completed in 1914, Saint Ignatius Church was built in 1914 and holds much history and traditions for the University and City of San Francisco. It is named after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesuits. The church is a stunning example of Baroque-style architecture. The church has four tall spires at each corner of the building. At one time, they were the highest structures in the city and were used as points of navigation for ships entering the bay. The exterior boasts a magnificent dome that caps the altar on the interior.
Upon entering the church, you will see beautifully carved columns, mosaics, and statues of angels above the altar. The church can hold approximately 1,000 parishioners. There are 50 stained-glass windows that line the sanctuary, depicting various saints. There are large stone blocks in the basement. It is believed that Jesuit priests used these to measure earthquakes.
Although this is a university chapel, it is a Catholic church and follows the Jesuit traditions. Masses are held daily, as well as special holiday services. What makes this church different from many other Catholic churches is its outreach and ministry to the LGBTQ+ community in the San Francisco Bay area. The church is the official memorial chapel for first responders in San Francisco.
Saint Ignatius Church is steeped in traditions that reflect its Catholic heritage. One such tradition is the Feast of Saint Ignatius. It is celebrated annually on July 31st and honors the church’s namesake. The church is a popular wedding location and the setting for concerts throughout the year. Graduation ceremonies are also held here to honor the new graduates of the university.
5. Sage Chapel
Cornell University – Ithaca, NY
Constructed in 1873, Sage Chapel is named after Henry Williams Sage, a prominent university trustee and philanthropist. The chapel’s architectural style blends Romanesque and Gothic Revival. This 1,200-seat church is the final resting place for some of the most prominent figures in the university’s history.
The chapel’s impressive interior contains artwork that depicts both religious and secular themes. The mosaics and stained glass depict the educational values of the school. It also earned the school the nickname “the heathens on the hill.” The chapel’s centerpiece is the iconic “Aurora” window by famed artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Sage Chapel was founded as a Protestant church but has become non-denominational. It serves as an inclusive place of worship and contemplation for individuals of all faiths and backgrounds. It hosts regular religious services, including Sunday worship, interfaith gatherings, and special holiday observances. The chapel’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity reflects Cornell’s values of open-mindedness and academic freedom.
Sage Chapel is home to several enduring traditions and annual events. One of the most cherished traditions is the Sage Chapel Service of Lessons and Carols, held annually during the holiday season. This festive event features Scripture readings and choral performances. Each December, the university’s annual “Vespers” concert series occurs at Sage Chapel, featuring music and performances by Cornell’s talented students and faculty. The Sage Chapel Choir, composed of Cornell students, adds to the chapel’s vibrant musical tradition.
The chapel hosts weddings, concerts, lectures, and other events open to the community. It has been the site of some historic sermons and speaking events. Some of the most famous clergy members have given sermons, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even John Cleese of Monty Python fame have spoken here.
4. United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel
United States Air Force Academy – Colorado Springs, CO
Soaring 150 feet tall in the Rocky Mountains is the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel. This modernist masterpiece was designed by Walter Netsch and opened in 1962. The chapel is instantly recognizable by its 17 metal spires that give the impression they are taking flight.
The aluminum, glass, and steel front of the chapel leads into an impressive 1,300-seat sanctuary. The chapel’s interior has ribbons of stained glass that move skyward between each spire. The stained glass utilizes darker colors at the rear of the chapel, and they move to lighter shades as you make your way to the altar. This is to symbolize traveling from the darkness towards the light of God.
The Cadet Chapel is a place of worship for the academy’s cadets, faculty, staff, and visitors. It welcomes individuals of all faiths but primarily affiliated with Protestantism. The chapel contains separate churches for Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist services. There is an All-Faiths Room and a Falcon Circle for multi-denominational meetings of cadets of differing faiths. Each room has its own entrance, and the Chapel can hold services in all rooms simultaneously. The chapel is home to several inter-faith programs for cadets. The programs are meant to educate members on their own faiths and the faiths of other cadets.
The Cadet Chapel hosts some beloved traditions and events. Besides weekly services, the chapel hosts the Academy’s annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. It holds concerts, lectures, memorial services, and the annual Baccalaureate ceremony. Weddings are very popular at the chapel but are only open to eligible service members and their families.
The Cadet Chapel is the most visited man-made structure in Colorado. It should be noted that the chapel is currently closed until 2027 for renovations.
3. West Point Cadet Chapel
United States Military Academy – West Point, NY
The West Point Cadet Chapel is situated on one of the highest points of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. This magnificent structure provides sweeping views of the campus and the Hudson River.
The Gothic Revival-style chapel was built in 1910. Bertram Goodhue designed its breathtaking features. The chapel’s exterior features pointed arches, intricate stone carvings, and soaring spires. The stone façade was built from granite that was taken from the grounds of the campus. The chapel is topped with an impressive, 165-foot bell tower.
The interior is lined with beautiful stone arches and a high vaulted ceiling. The stained glass is one of the focal points made by Willet Studios of Philadelphia. The Great Sanctuary Window is inscribed with the words “Duty, Honor, Country,” which is the school’s motto. The front row of pews has the names of some of the most famous generals who were superintendents of the academy. These include Douglas MacArthur, Zachary Taylor, and William Westmoreland. The Cadet Chapel Organ is housed in the sanctuary. It is the largest church organ in the world and was built by M.P. Moeller in 1911. It was expanded over the years and now contains over 23,000 pipes.
The chapel is affiliated with the Protestant church but welcomes individuals of all faiths. There are other chapels on campus that cater to other denominations. Services are held regularly and are open to cadets, faculty, staff, and the local community. fostering a sense of unity and shared values among the cadet corps. The chapel also plays a significant role in hosting weddings, memorials, and special events for the West Point community.
The West Point Cadet Chapel is one of the largest Gothic chapels in the United States and can seat up to 1,500 people. The chapel provides the ideal backdrop for weddings, religious services, concerts, and Academy ceremonies. It hosts several cherished traditions, including holiday events and the Academy’s Baccalaureate Service, where graduating cadets and their families gather to celebrate their achievements and future service to the nation.
2. Basilica of the Sacred Heart
University of Notre Dame – South Bend, IN
The University of Notre Dame is probably known for its iconic Golden Dome. You can turn on your television almost every Saturday during football season and see it on your screen. One of the other stunning buildings in that picture is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Not to be outdone by its famous neighbor, the basilica is an architectural masterpiece on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.
The Basilica was officially opened in August of 1888. This cross-shaped church is a splendid example of Neo-Gothic architecture designed by architect Patrick Keely. It is the tallest building on campus, with its spectacular main spire topped with a 12-foot cross. The Basilica is the most visited collegiate church in the United States. It is open for tours every day of the week and for extended hours during football season. Catholic mass is held twice daily and 3 times every Sunday in the impressive 1,000-seat venue.
Weddings and baptisms are extremely popular here, but several restrictions exist on who can participate. Students, faculty, alumni, and members of the Sacred Heart parish are welcome to have these important milestones celebrated here. Even if you cannot hold your wedding or baptism here, you can watch live streams of masses daily. Funeral services are held here and have included some famous alumni, including:
- Notre Dame football legend Knute Rockne
- Television personality Regis Philbin
The interior of the church is a marvel. The soaring arches and high columns give the feel of being in one of the grand old cathedrals of Europe. The high ceilings are painted blue with angels depicted throughout. It gives the impression that you are looking into heaven. It is home to the largest collection of 19th-century French stained glass in the world. It also houses the oldest carillon in North America. It was elevated to the status of minor basilica by the Vatican in 1992.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands as a symbol of architectural splendor, and the Catholic traditions and values of the university.
1. Stanford Memorial Church
Stanford University – Stanford, CA
When driving down the iconic Palm Drive on the Stanford University campus, Stanford Memorial Church is the first building you see. Stanford Memorial Church was originally dedicated in 1903. It memorializes Leland Stanford, the university’s founder, and his son, Leland Stanford Jr.
The church is a stunning blend of Romanesque and Byzantine styles designed by architect Charles A. Coolidge. The red sandstone walls are covered in ornate carvings. The main entrance to the church features a large mosaic, archways, and beautiful stained-glass windows. The top of the roof is adorned with a simple Celtic Cross. The church’s interior is even more stunning than the exterior. As you enter the sanctuary, you see the high vaulted ceiling. Near the ceiling are rows of exquisite stained-glass windows. Stone archways run along either side of the church. The altar is capped with a high dome with a round stained-glass window. The window allows light to stream down onto the altar, giving the appearance of a divine presence.
The 1,200-seat Stanford Memorial Church is a non-denominational space based on Protestant teachings. It serves as the university’s primary place of worship and is incredibly popular for weddings. The church offers regular religious services, interfaith gatherings, and special events. It is also home to Stanford University’s annual Baccalaureate Service.
Despite being heavily damaged by earthquakes in 1906 and 1989, Stanford Memorial Church symbolizes the university’s commitment to the harmonious coexistence of faith and reason. The church was founded on the idea that intellect and spirituality go hand in hand.
Note that this article was originally published in March of 2016. It has been updated as of January 9, 2024