In keeping with its designer's intent, Washington University's Benjamin Brown Graham Memorial Chapel serves as a refuge to entertain both the intellectual and spiritual. The physical design of Graham is quite straightforward. The intellectual and spiritual impetus of the design of Graham is not. By sauntering through a forest of historical perspective, we will examine Graham's manner of conception by focusing on two elements: grotesques and glass.
Romanticism is a contemporary term that conveniently defines a point in Western European history when perfection was thought to be wholly attainable in the arts. From the late 18th through the late 19th centuries, an awareness and sensitivity of human emotion was a popular oeuvre of artists. The genius of the individual rather than a given collective society inspired artists to search for seemingly impulsive reactions to events and moods of the day. Artists felt that all things Classical (generally Greek and Roman) were - because of its severity of form and adherence to rules - by nature, full of fault.
Seeking spontaneity, artists were drawn to exotic and far-away places that provided them rich yet occasionally familiar subjects to explore. The splendors and mysteries of an ever changing and, at times, overwhelmingly brutal natural world provided artists with a happy marriage of both solace and stimulation. This near fanatical reverence for nature, coupled with a passion for settings unique, lured some artists and many more spiritual-minded admirers to their medieval past.
The medieval past, or sometimes called, "Middle Ages" was a historical epoch that had in common with the age of Romanticism important advances in all areas of mechanical technology, international trade, and the arts. Similarly, these two epochs also shared a sense of great uncertainty as evidenced by numerous social, political, and military conflicts largely grounded in religious convictions and nationalistic fervor.
From a travel diary published by humanist John Evelyn in 1641, the term "Gotiq" (or, 'Gotik,' 'Gottic,' and 'Gotick') was written for the first time. Prior to this, the "Gothic" style had no formal name, it was only an accepted manner of building. It is likely that the word originated in medieval Italy as a debasing term for barbarous Northern European tribes. Although already used in colloquial language to denote uncouth anachronism, it was Evelyn's repeated use of the expression in printed form that made it voguish in England.
Although the impact of Romanticism was felt throughout the Western Europe, it was especially prevalent in England. Removed from the more quick-changing and fashionable modes of the Continent, England was slower to adopt the "enlightened" neo-Classic (derived from Greek and Roman) architecture of the 15th to 17th centuries. The expression "Renaissance" generally does not apply to English architecture. Rather the slippery term "Tudor", a name that pertains to its ruling family (1485-1603), is used. For the most part, English "Tudor" architecture is often seen as a mere extension of the middle ages with some scholars even referring to it as "Gothic Survival."
English artists of the Romantic Age felt a strong kinship to the pious and lofty ideals of the Christian Middle Ages. In their view, medieval life was full of lore, mystery, melodrama, tragedy, and travel to foreign lands. Two elements in particular -- kinship to religious piety and love of mystical lore - were expressed in two distinct mediums, literature and architecture. For both mediums, the term "Gothic Revival" was popularized.
Literature of the age was primarily marked by two approaches, namely the poetic and the antiquarian. In 1782 a curious work entitled Vathek written by William Beckford appeared. Attributed as the first "Gothic" novel and set in the medieval Islamic world, his book created a sensation in England. Early 19th century English writers such as and Lord George Gordon Byron Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, 1812; (Prisoner of Chillon, 1816-17; and, Genoa, 1823) and Percy Bysshe Shelly (Frankenstein, 1818) followed.
In the early 18th century, Archeology was fast becoming a serious science. In England, a pharmacy clerk named Thomas Rickman mourning the death of his wife sought comfort in roaming churchyards. As his personal interest developed, he promoted himself to the role of self-taught architect whose treatise, An Attempt to Discriminate the Style of English Architecture (1817) became the definitive work on the classification of English medieval architectural styles. Another enthusiastic writer, John Britton, wrote several books recalling the beauty of edifices raised during the English Middle Ages. His three most popular series called, The Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain (1807-26), Specimens of Gothic Architecture (1921-23), and The History and Antiquities of the Cathedral (1814-35) did much to create a modish look at the English Middle Ages. In France, Arcisse de Caumont perfected a subjective methodology to studying ancient ruins. His book, Cours d' antiguites (1830) was a well-known source book readily available to architects in Europe and America.
Fusing Rickman's attention to detail and Britton's dreamy view of the middle ages, Augsutus-Welby Northmore Pugin wrote in 1836 a scandalous work that defined "Gothic Revival." His book, Contrasts; or, A Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, and Similar Buildings of the Present Day; Shewing [sic] the Present Decay of Taste: Accompanied by Appropriate Text linked the quality and character of society directly with the caliber of its architecture. A devout and converted Catholic, Pugin was passionate in his view that all Christian architecture should be practical to worship in. In his mind the Protestant Reformation (generally 1517-1648) led church architects to focus their attention on copying Classical, or "pagan" motifs. In his lectures named "The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture" delivered at Oscott College in 1840-41, Pugin praised the cathedral architects of medieval Europe for their attention to functional layout as well as a sensitivity to religious symbolism.
Perhaps as controversial and certainly more flamboyant in expressing his views, the writer and critic John Ruskin was Gothic Revival's chief champion. A gifted writer with extraordinary powers of persuasive patter, Ruskin sold the public at large on the virtues of medieval architecture. Born into a wealthy, highly protective, and strict Protestant family, Ruskin's view of the world has been referred to by many scholars as one of child-like innocence. Considered a prodigy by his parents, he was encouraged to study at Christ College, Oxford, where he spent several hours a day - under his mother's tutelage - reading and studying the bible.
Despite his oft-hostile views of popery and Catholic ritual and their cumulative effects on architecture, Ruskin adored the playfulness, color, and freedom of expression found in medieval edifices. In his book The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), Ruskin argued that Gothic architecture was the ideal union of truth to nature and morality. Unlike Pugin's more pragmatic and mechanical look at Gothic architecture, Ruskin spoke of its aesthetics. Above all, Ruskin insisted that ornament played the most crucial role in a building's success. Ruskin felt that ornament was non-utilitarian and, as such, captured the free spirit and imagination of the individual artist. From 1851-53 Ruskin wrote the influential The Stones of Venice, in which his focus became more the merits of medieval society rather than architecture alone.
Despite the infusion of scholarly interest, most main line English architects attempted to merely imitate the Gothic style leading to gross misinterpretations of the intent of medieval engineers. It was the so-called amateur country architects that won the hearts of a fashion-conscience public and introduced Gothic to the domestic front. A well-read country squire named Sanderson Miller first built a faux Gothic castle ruin near Edgehill, Warwickshire in 1746. About this time, Horace Walpole planned for his home "Strawberry Hill" near Twickenham, Middlesex to be rebuilt in a serious medieval manner. By appointing a "committee on taste", he employed amateur archeologists to create a genuine Gothic feeling of asymmetry. The popularity of these domestic structures led to their thematic imitation in parish churches, abbeys, and collegiate edifices.
Between 1760 and 1820, England's industrial cities were experiencing a boom in population as a result of the constant war with France. Fearing a rise of Catholic sentiment among the masses, some middle class Protestants organized the Church Building Society. In 1818 they strong-armed the government into action, calling for the Church Building Act. This act encouraged the building of churches on a grand scale. Because of poor economic conditions however, the government was capable of subsidizing little money and preferred that churches be built only in populous cities. Classical structures were expensive, as they required an appreciable amount of cut stone. Gothic structures fashioned from rough stone, brick, and wood were far cheaper. As a result, the Gothic Revival style had made a logistic move from the picturesque and dreamy domestic refuge of the country to large populated cities.
Gothic Revival was firmly established as a England's national style in 1836 when a design by architect Sir Charles Berry was chosen by commissioners for the building of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) along the Thames River. The largest public building at that point built along Gothic Revival lines, Berry's design owed much to Pugin's scholarly groundwork. By the 1850's, the Gothic Revival became the fashionable norm for most civic structures. Other influential English Gothic Revival architects included William Butterfield, George Gilbert Scott, George Edmund Street, and Alfred Waterhouse.
In America, the Gothic Revival style was largely advanced by the Brotherhood of Freemasons and the Episcopal Church, two highly organized and social-minded communities.
Freemasonry has its roots in the highly organized craft guilds of medieval Europe. Originally founded as a fraternal order consisting only of due-paying stone masons, other professional groups won honorary membership after building declined towards the latter half of the 16th century in Europe. In 1717, the first Grand Lodge of "Freemasons" was founded in England. With this move, Freemasons divided themselves further into highly chivalric brotherhoods and inter mixed the teachings and rituals of numerous ancient cultures. Freemasonry was eventually spread world-wide by means of England's growing number of colonial outposts.
At the end of the American Revolution (generally 1775-83), Philadelphia became a center for Freemasonry. Having no familial "interest" to purchase back their commissions or to even sail home to England, many former lower-ranking British Army officers found comfort in the "brotherly" traditions of American Freemason lodges. Men from nearly every profession found that by joining a lodge and participating in its rather liberal and democratic practices of election and self-government, they were able to chose their own future career paths. It was this underlying democratic verbiage, a pseudo-kinship with medieval craftsmen based on the love for ancient and medieval ritual, and sense of civic duty that furthered the cause of Freemasonry.
The Episcopal Church was formally organized in Philadelphia in 1789 as the successor to the Church of England, although they remained closely associated. From 1828 to 1832 at Oxford, England a series of laws (92 Tracts) were passed by the Church of England that gradually led to the reintroduction of the liturgical practices that echoed Catholicism and had been earlier dismissed during the Protestant Reformation. As largely a consequence of this "Oxford Movement", churches began to be designed with the functional role of these liturgical practices in mind.
Sensitive to the moral implications and sentimental ideals of writers like Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, many American Episcopalians felt that the Gothic Revival style was best suited for places of worship. Richard Upjohn, a capable designer of domestic mansions and small parish churches, accepted in 1839 a large Episcopalian commission in New York to build Trinity Church. The immediate success of that work resulted in him securing numerous church commissions from Episcopalian congregations across the country. Revered for his tempered interpretation of medieval style, economical resourcefulness, and masterful use of wood, Upjohn - who was nicknamed "the church architect" - originated a widely imitated style that is frequently called "carpenter's Gothic."
Architects in early 18th century America designed structures of European influence. Early attempts at monumental architecture were mostly limited to church and stately homes built of fine materials in the Classical tradition for affluent clients in cosmopolitan cities such as Baltimore, New York, and Boston. By the early 19th century America was beginning to expand westward. The challenge of quarrying indigenous stone and its related expense led many architects to explore the possibilities of a seemingly unlimited supply of timber. As in England, it was found that Gothic structures could be built far cheaper than those of Classical influence. Unlike their English counterparts however, American Gothic Revival structures generally made the transition from crowded city environs to the constantly expanding countryside.
By the 1870's the Gothic style was becoming an extremely popular motif for collegiate buildings in America. The precedent for this move originated in 17th century England where a decline of church building led many architects and craftsman to the universities. There, the medieval tradition of fine craftsmanship and attention to religious sensitivities are exemplified in college edifices at Cambridge and Oxford. Despite their apparent respect for surrounding structures and whatever spiritual convictions they may have entertained, English collegiate architects ultimately chose Gothic because is was the affordable alternative to building in the classical scheme. In America, the same was true. American Architects such as Richard Morris Hunt and Russell Sturgis quietly introduced the style commonly called, "collegiate Gothic."
It was while serving as draftsmen under the celebrated Ruskin-influenced architect Theophilus Parsons Chandler, that two Philadelphia architects named Walter Cope and John Stewardson decided to open their practice in July of 1885. Their partnership generated a number of ambitious medieval designs that would inspire a great multitude of "collegiate Gothic" buildings to be erected throughout America. Childhood playmates, Cope and Stewardson were both educated at an early age, well versed in literature and the arts, and either lived in and/or traveled extensively throughout Europe to study architecture.
Although initially sought after for their innovative neo-Classical residential and commercial executions, Cope and Stewardson's greatest source of fame proved to be their medieval college and university designs. In 1886, their bold use of the "pointed principle" was first witnessed at Bryn Mawr College. Subsequent commissions for collegiate Gothic were secured from Haverford College, the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and Princeton University from the years 1888-98. With each successive collegiate commission, they perfected and evolved their craft. Often confined by the physical campus boundaries of these projects, Cope and Stewardson longed for a chance to mature their vision of a sweeping, picturesque Gothic campus that embodied the design principle that Cope called, "good taste." Stewardson suddenly died in 1896 and it was Cope and Stewardson's brother Emil that, in 1899, made their vision a reality.
Founded in 1853 as Elliot Seminary and scattered among several down town Saint Louis locations, Washington University wishfully endeavored to build a large single campus to accommodate a projected future student body. Motivated by their desire to be nationally recognized for excellence in education, the Board of Trustees moved to purchase a tract of suburban land at the northwest corner of Forest Park in 1894 that later was home to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World's Fair) of 1904.
In June of 1899, under the direction of Chancellor Winfield Scott Chaplin, the Board of Trustees invited six nationally recognized architectural firms to submit their plans for a "renewed" university. Given a favored landscape plan that would most easily compliment a neo-Classical treatment and the charge to design a series of buildings, a lively competition ensued. In October of 1899, five members of the building committee of the Board of Trustees and three architectural consultants decided unanimously in favor of Cope and Stewardson's novel adaptation of a block plan.
Central to Cope and Stewardson's design was the careful alteration of the Boards pre-conceived vision of a central axis with one quadrangle following another. Cope and Stewardson planned for a number of quadrangles each with distinct personalities and asymmetrically placed. While no official records concerning the Jury's selection exists, much may be deduced from Cope and Stewardson's explanatory notes that supplemented their drawings. Apart from their praising the cost effectiveness of a Gothic plan, they speak quite eloquently about their philosophical notions. They write:
"The Greeks rejected the arch because they said it never rests, and this feeling of the Greeks is the key-note of every really Classic building. Classic architecture expresses completion, finality, perfection: Gothic architecture expresses aspiration, growth, development. To the beholder the Classic says: This is the sum - Here is perfection - Do not aspire further. The Gothic says to him: Reach higher - Spread outward and upward - There are no limitations."
Further still they offer:
"The Gothic is one in which the interior - that is to say, the life within, dictates the outward form. The Classic is a mould into which life is poured. The Gothic is not fixed but accommodates itself to every variety of impulse and of mood. It is one moment solemn - another playful. One moment it expresses power - ambition; another contentment."
As part of the contractual agreement, the firm of Cope and Stewardson opened an office in Saint Louis in 1900. In charge of this office, Cope appointed a young Scottish draftsman named James Jamieson. A well-traveled artist and architectural visionary, Jamieson would play a vital role in the design of the university over the next 35 years. When Cope died in 1902, Jamieson took control of the firm and commuted regularly between Philadelphia and Saint Louis until 1912 when he opened his own Saint Louis office. Despite the deaths of both Cope and John Stewardson, Jamieson continued their vision of a Gothic campus.
The last Washington University building to be erected as a design from the firm of Cope and Stewardson, the Benjamin Brown Graham Memorial Chapel is plentiful in the use two much-proliferated Gothic elements - grotesques and glass.
The benefactor, Christine Blair Graham, an influential and civic-conscience Saint Louis socialite, approached Robert Brookings (Chairman of the Board) in 1904 shortly after the death of her husband to offer the university a chapel named for him. A self made business man from Ohio, Graham moved to Saint Louis in 1855 and established the Graham Paper Company, the largest wholesaler of paper in the middle west. Graham also served as director of the Merchants National Bank, the St. Louis Trust Company, and as president of the St. Louis Mercantile Library. The Grahams were both highly devout Episcopalians and active members at Christ Church Cathedral. As neighbors to the Brookings, they were intimately familiar with the development of Washington University.
In 1900, huge amounts of earth were moved to grade the entire campus, narrow gauge rail lines were laid down to accommodate the hauling of heavy material, and a shed to protect stone masons was erected. Due to Graham's weight, the concrete foundation was poured thirty feet below the surface. As with earlier campus buildings, Jamieson was extremely particular with the quality of Graham's workmanship. Missouri red granite, chosen for the walls, was mechanically rough split into manageable pieces at quarries south of Saint Louis, transported to the site, and then hand-hewn according to Jamieson's instructions by stone masons from the Pickel Stone Company of Saint Louis). To capture a "medieval" hand-finished look, Jamieson lectured stone masons continually. His ten guide rules became teasingly known by workmen as the "Ten Commandments." Limestone was provided by the Indiana Limestone Company of Bedford much in the same fashion, and used for quoins (dressed corner stones), moldings, and sculpture. The general contractor for the project was the Bright Construction Company of Saint Louis.
Jamieson designed Graham to stylistically reflect the demeanor of a medieval English college chapel. Dedicated in 1909, Graham measures 140 feet in length, 58 feet in width, and reaches a maximum height of 77 feet. Graham is oriented to the east with an extended porch entrance at the west end and connected by walls running north and south. Graham's plan is rather simple, consisting of a central nave (main aisle), no side aisles, and a north-facing vestry (room for ceremonial dressing). On each of its four corners, Graham is treated with superbly proportioned octagonal-shaped tourelles (rounded towers) iced with layers of sculpture.
Viewed at various times in European history as old fashioned and stepped in unflattering religious sentimentality, medieval church architecture, was in fact a science. Most medieval church builders were well versed engineers. Armed with vast technological knowledge, coupled with the fervent mood of Christianity, medieval church engineers built ambitious structures that concentrated on the extensive use of counter-weights and spring-like construction. With advances in pointy vaulted arches and flying buttresses (projected masonry for lateral reinforcement), it was possible to create walls of unprecedented height that could be pierced with curtains of stained glass. Throughout such structures, religious and secular iconography in the form of sculpture and stained glass was plentiful.
Created in an age of widespread illiteracy, medieval sculpture conveyed powerful visual images of biblical stories and lively allegories reciting local myths. Usually polychromed (painted) and portrayed as either realistic or fantastic, sculpture was intended to instill solemn reverence for biblical characters and illicit fear for acting against divine power or prevalent social norms by the application of a sober program of symbols. Nonetheless, sculptors often found free expression in their medium with obvious attempts at whimsy. Many sculptural details were also were clever engineering stunts.
At Graham, two sculptural misnomers have been proliferated. First, Graham has no "gargoyles." Derived from the Old French word "gargouille" (throat or gullet), a gargoyle (or, to gargle) is a stone or wood waterspout that projects from the upper part of a building. In medieval architecture, gargoyles were often carved with images of fearsome beasts from whose mouths poured water when it rained. At Graham, rainwater collects in hidden gutters at the roofline behind the battlement and is directed away from the building into the ground by pipes buried in the walls. Graham's sculptural details popularly called gargoyles are actually "grotesques." Derived from grotteschi, a descriptive term for fresco (painting in wet plaster) motifs found in ancient grottos (artificial caves), a grotesque in architectural nomenclature is a non-functional block of stone or wood cut with fanciful floral or animal motifs and projects from a vertical surface. Second, Graham has no "bosses." A boss is a functional block of stone or wood carved with fanciful floral or animal motifs that covers the intersection of ribs in a vault or ceiling. Some figurative details that may appear to be bosses are actually corbels. Corbels are projecting blocks of stone or wood supporting or appearing to support a vault from its point of origin.
It is difficult to accurately identify the designer(s) or carver(s) of Graham's various exterior sculpture. A book of hand drawn models featuring sculpture from other campus buildings is known. This book is stamped "Jamieson and Spearl" but bears no signature or other identifying marks. Given that Graham's sculptural program was clearly laid out in many of Jamieson's architectural renderings and that he photographed the preliminary plaster models, we may only assume that he played a role in its design and selection. The firm of Cope and Stewardson's main sculptor for earlier projects was John Borie. Precious little is known about Borie. Members of a Borie family from Philadelphia worked as architects in a Gothic Revival vain at Bryn Mawr and Princeton and were more or less contemporaries of Jamieson. We also know of Adolphie Borie, a contemporary Impressionist Philadelphia-born painter. The possible interrelations of these Bories' are at this point mere conjecture, however.
Although austere when compared to its English predecessors, Graham revives the medieval English Perpendicular-style (generally 1350-1550). Characterized by an emphasis on slender and vertical linear patterns, the Perpendicular-style (or, "Rectilinear") is noted for the daring application of ornamental flame-like window tracery (stone framework) and complicated fan-vaults (elaborate ceiling details). In its early history, someone inaccurately and publicly boasted that Graham was an exact copy of King's Chapel at Cambridge, England. Discounting this comparison, Jamieson writes in his Intimate History of Washington University (1941):
..."The Graham Memorial Chapel is not a copy ... the length and height of University Chapel are so modest, and so magnificent in Kings that a comparison of the two seems idle."
On the exterior, Graham's north and south walls are divided into eight bays each featuring a finely traced alternating-patterned window. Separating each window is a setback buttress crowned by a highly detailed pinnacle (vertical spike-like projection) that is embellished with crockets (horizontal leaf-like projections). Along the entire length of the each side is a string course (horizontal band of stone) that exhibits a number of grotesques (projecting stone blocks carved with human or animal forms). For economy's sake - and unlike most genuine medieval examples - Graham's grotesques repeat on opposite cardinal points and bays. For example, an exact sculpture of a basilisk (lizard-like figure) found in the north east side in bay 1will be found on the south west side in bay 8. A stone battlement (parapet-like treatment) horizontally compliments the roofline.
At its west end, Graham receives an elaborately carved porch entrance embellished with geometric patterns, fantastic creatures, griffins, basilisks, demons, and both solemn and jocular human figures. Above the porch entrance, is a large single window. The architrave (a stone frame that surrounds a window) is rich in sculptural detail that recalls medieval symbolism. The architrave is populated with human figures, lions (due to legends recalling that they are born dead and after three days come to life = resurrection), oxen (due to the ancient use for sacrifice and labor = patience, strength, and generosity), and eagles (due to the belief that they flew towards the sun to renew their plumage = resurrection). In the Christian tradition, these four characters are attributes for the evangelists: Saint Matthew (human); Saint Mark (lion), Saint Luke (ox), and Saint John (eagle). Interspersed amongst these figures, we find squirrels (because of their craftiness = untrustworthiness, or demon-like) and vigilant owl (because of their nocturnal habits = at times "Prince of Darkness" or, at times a symbol for wisdom), and oak branches (symbolic for strength and faith).
Suggesting a comparison to heaven and hell we find two figurative corbels at either side of the west window. To the right, or south (symbolic for warmth) we see an angelic figure. To the left, or north (symbolic for worldly coldness) we see a large demonic creature devouring a smaller figure. No doubt a stonemason's subtle attempt to remind us who designed and built this edifice, we find in a string course above two interesting figures including a man clasping a banderole marked, "C&P" (Cope and Stewardson) and a charming figure holding a carpenters square and mallet. Following the roofs shape and joining the string course sits an androgynous angelic figure holding a tablet with mottled text. Above this figure is a highly detailed niche (recess in a wall) complete with pinnacle.
The exterior focus of Graham's east end is its memorial window. As large as the west window, but far most extravagant in the conception of its tracery, it bears no decorated architrave. Sculpture is found only in a string course and on two corbels placed similarly to those at the west end. The south corbel is treated with a royal personage, whereas the north corbel is given a peasant-like personage, perhaps symbolizing a comparison or union of the spiritual splendors of heaven versus the humble virtues of earthly life.
In the interior, the medieval cathedral engineer sought to create a physical world in microcosm and a spiritual world in macrocosm. In this world, the visitor would be both physically awestruck and emotionally overwhelmed. The interior space, with its cool and cavernous qualities, its soaring tree-like columns and branch-like ribs, its sculptured animal forms, and its streams of jewel-like color filtering through the stained glass, remind us of walking through a canopied forest. Walking through this forest and turning a sharp corner, we might happen across the sudden image of a familiar sculptured personage or even fanciful animal carved in wood or stone.
By passing through Graham's extended west porch, the course, hand-hewn cyclopean red granite exterior gives way to a chaste ashlar (finely hewn) limestone interior. Above the entrance to the nave proper facing west, the words, "To the Glory of God and in Memory of Benjamin Brown Graham" are seen. The balcony immediately above is a later addition (1947). In Graham, extravagance of interior decoration is kept to an absolute minimum. Unlike genuine English Perpendicular examples that almost always explode with near unbelievable and imaginative stone fan-vaults, we find a simple Tudor-style ceiling supported by a series of trusses whose brackets terminate in corbel-like grotesque figures. The floor is laid with gray Tennessee marble. Looking eastward and flanking the north and south walls, we find a finely carved oak organ case containing sixty-six pipes and bearing a handsome array of grotesques. The current organ (1986) is the fourth to be installed in Graham. The elaborate case however, dates from the third organ (1948) which is an exact copy of the first (1909).
Stained glass, because of its novelty, its inherent fragility, and its use of brilliant color was an extraordinarily important feature for any medieval church. Graham's most pronounced piece of stained glass is found at the east end. The window was produced by the English workshop of John Richard Clayton and Alfred Bell and set in place in 1909. Popular with church designers for their elegant medieval-inspired figural drawings and their innovative use of violet and umber-colored glass, the workshop of Clayton and Bell was favored to do much of the re-glazing of older medieval structures, including some at Cambridge. True to medieval fashion the window strives to tell an entire story in a short amount of space. The subject of the east window is the "Dedication of Solomon's Temple."
A poster distributed at the time of Chapel's dedication quips about the subject of the east window, "… it is interesting, …an endeavor to treat adequately a subject suitable for such a building." WHY? Perhaps we will never know. There are, however, several possibilities. Chartered in 1853 with non-sectarian views, Washington University has purposely shied away from endorsing any one religious group. The Grahams were doubtless familiar with this founding principle and sensitive to it.
Because of his comparatively peaceful reign, Solomon may be seen as a "safe" figure from biblical history, one that bridges Judaic, Christian, and Muslim traditions. From biblical conventions, Solomon is the model of worldly wisdom and a hero of toleration. Perhaps because of his rather gentle nature and passion for intellectual pursuits, Solomon is often regarded as the epitome of knowledge and learning. As attributed author of proverbs, part of the Book of Wisdom, and most profoundly the Song of Solomon, Solomon is sometimes seen as an allegorical figure standing for the love of husband and wife bonded through faith.
Solomon (961-931 BCE) was son of King David of Israel. By way of careful political maneuvering by his mother Bathsheba, Solomon was able at a young age to become David's successor over his favored sibling Adonijan. Unlike David, Solomon preferred to live in royal splendor and entertain foreign guests with ceremonial pomp. Solomon was admired for his wisdom in seeking toleration through comparatively peaceful and lucrative trade agreements with Egypt, Phoenicia, southeastern Asia Minor, and southern Arabia.
From profitable foreign trade and taxation at home, Solomon hired the finest craftsman then known to transform Jerusalem into a city of architectural wonders. Upon Mount Moriah, north of David's city Zion, Solomon built a city of great beauty. To satisfy the religious needs of his nomadic people, Solomon erected a central religious sanctuary, or "temple." This temple was primarily designed to house the sacred Ark of the Covenant. The abode of the divine law (the Ten Commandments), the Ark (arca, or box) is said to have been carried by the tribes of Israel into every important battle.
In Graham's east window we see multitudes of emotionally wrought merrymakers, musicians, tribal elders, priests, Levites, and courtiers - all dressed in medieval-inspired garb -- participating in the ceremonial procession of the Ark. In the center of the window, Solomon is seen sumptuously cloaked in a regal costume richly adorned with jewels and standing upon a podium in a highly stylized and sumptuously colored interpretation of the temples' interior. Suggested by censer-wielding figures, a curtain seen behind Solomon's podium, and the location of the spiral stairs, we are compositionally placed before the Altar of Incense, behind which is the final resting place for the Ark, or "hekal" (Holy of Hollies). Above the altar of incense is a fire lamp that may symbolize the burning bush that counseled Moses (receiver of the Ten Commandments), the animal sacrifices at the dedication, or perhaps it even hints at Solomon's love (or, fire for) for intellect, alchemy, and/or romance. Below this altar, a festoon-embraced medallion recalling the Ark is found. Eighteen "cherubim" (two-winged angels) populate a smoky heaven-like "ciborium" (ceiling canopy) in the upper registers of the window. Often portrayed in medieval art as child-like, hierarchical, and cosmic-inspired characters, "cherubim" were first introduced to the Hebrews by Hiram of Tyre's Lebanese craftsmen who placed two winged sphinx-like figures at the Ark for spiritual protection. According to biblical accounts, once the Ark was placed in the "hekal", the temple filled with smoke, marking the very the moment that "the glory of God filled the house of God." Soon, everyone left the temple's interior and Solomon stood alone in obscurity to deliver a lengthy sermon, a prayer, and a benediction. Towards the end of his benediction Solomon stood with arms outstretched and said, "the Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers, that we may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments" (I Kings: 8:57 & 58). This is the exact verse at the window's bottom.
Interesting too, is that Solomon - in particular his erection of a temple - is central to the legend of Masonry. For Masons, Solomon is considered the "Builder of the Everlasting House" and "Grand Master of the Lodge of Jerusalem." For medieval Masons, Solomon's Temple symbolized the center of the cosmos and spiritual "Temple of All-encompassing Brotherly Love." The temple fostered a peaceful fraternity consisting of those "who were to build it and who were identity with it - for the idea of building a temple can be understood when the act of building and the human race are seen as equivalent." By way of the revival of Masonry in the late eighteenth century, Freemasons re-introduced a medieval ritual called "Solomon's Temple" whose purpose it was to reconstruct through the physical body a perfect metaphysical body not subject to death.
Hiram of Tyre and his thousands of skilled masons and carpenters who designed and built Solomon's Temple introduced the Hebrews to many Egyptian, Phoenician, and Asian symbolic practices. As perpetuated by Masonic rituals, some of this symbolism is mirrored in medieval church construction. Influences include the reverence for sculptural icons, the importance of bringing light into a sacred structure, orienting a sacred structure towards the east (rising sun), and marking their (the stonemasons) handiwork with the fraternal symbols of the compass and square, plum line, trowel, two pillars, and five or six-pointed stars.
The ancient Masonic reverence for Solomon may also be considered important to the thematic selection for Graham's window. In correspondence with Cope and Stewardson from January of 1908, Robert Brookings (Chairman of the Board) reveals that Mrs. Graham leaves the final selection of the design of the window entirely in their hands. Jamieson was responsible for the final design of the Chapel and it is likely that he personally worked with the glassmakers to rationalize a theme. Jamieson was also a Freemason (Missouri Lodge Number 1 of Saint Louis) and unquestionably knew of Solomon's importance. In a tribute paid shortly after his death in 1941 by the Burns Club, (dedicated to Robert Burns, a revered 18th century Scottish bard and Freemason) they likened Jamieson to the building of Solomon's Temple. It is also noteworthy that Robert Brookings was a Freemason (Tuscan Lodge of Saint Louis).
In addition to relating the biblical story, the east window may also masterfully bear the "astral" lights that allegorically illuminate a Masonic temple. Following Masonic tradition, Solomon stands upon an oblong stone that symbolizes the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is symbolic of an altar, a raised table for spiritual repast. This altar contains the sun, which once spiritually consumed, yields a feast of light, glory, and truth. The sun appears as "Great Architect of the Cosmos" or, Solomon personified. The fire-lamp above Solomon's head represents the moon. The two pillars that flank the oblong stone (ark) have two symbolic meanings. First, they refer to the free-standing pillars found at the entrance of Solomon's Temple, representing "Boaz" (Great-Grand Father of King David) to the south towards Judah (symbol of strength) and "Jachin" (High Priest at the dedication) to the north towards Israel (symbol of establishment). Secondly, they represent Solomon's two wardens, namely Hiram of Tyre (Grandmaster of Builders) and Hiram Abiff (Grandmaster of Workmen). Bridging the two pillars is a lintel that stands for "Yahweh" (Hebrew for God), the symbol of stability. On either side the of ark to provide illumination prior to the spiritual consumption of the sun are six tapers (long-wicked candles), symbols for the six planets known to ancient Masons. In Graham's window, these are possibly portrayed by the finial-capped pillars above the Altar of Incense.
Although no known record exists regarding the design and manufacture of the west, north, and south windows, they are loaded with subtle references to Solomon. Two designs in particular bear a six-pointed star, or hexagram. Composed of two overlapping triangles, the hexagram has always been closely associated with Solomon for his use of the symbol as "Yahweh." The hexagram has been known over the years as "sigillum Salomonis"(Solomon's Seal) or "scutum Davidis" (David's Shield). From ancient Masonic iconography and medieval alchemy, the hexagram came to represent four elements - fire, water, air and earth - or, when combined, "totality."
In concluding our historical pilgrimage of Graham, the words of Cope and Stewardson (Emil) define for us both the intellectual and spiritual impetus of their deliberate intentions. They offer:
"In short, Classic architecture may be the appropriate expression of the stability of government - the majesty of the law - the memory of a dead hero. But the Gothic has always, and will always, appeal to us as distinctly the style of a University, which, like a tree, must either grow or die."
Text by Jay Kempen, Washington University Archives, May 2002
Original HTML by Carole Prietto, Washington University Archives, May 2002
This online exhibit was created in 2002, and is hosted by University Archives,
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