Slice of Life: The Chapel That Could Be A Cathedral

John D. Rockefeller was one of the biggest businessmen in American history. So it’s not surprising that his idea of a “chapel” is larger than many cathedrals.

The Rockefeller Chapel (5850 South Woodlawn Avenue) is on the campus of the University of Chicago, and one of the city’s great places to sit, meditate, and get your wits about you.

Outside, the Bertram Goodhue design is magnificently neo-gothic. At the time it was completed in 1928, it was the tallest building on campus. The bell tower is actually a carillon, and one of the largest in the world.

Inside it’s impressive in size, but not so much as to be intimidating. It’s also just slightly Hogwartsian. One of the clever University of Chicago students should figure out how to float some candles above the sanctuary.

Places of worship like this one used to be standard equipment on college campuses because almost all colleges were run by religious orders. When education started to become secularized, churches and chapels were still part of the landscape because so much of the basic knowledge of civilization came from religious scholars over the centuries.

Today, college campuses eschew chapels in favor of things like Free Speech Zones (I’m looking at you, University of Houston). But just because the secular world finally discovered science doesn’t mean religious groups stopped teaching it, or discovering its secrets. After all, the Vatican runs an observatory in Arizona staffed with astronomer monks who even today make significant contributions to the exploration of space. College students might benefit more from the discoveries of those monks than from free-range fair-trade gender-neutral chi realignment pods.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

Share This Post On