Friday, December 8


Princeton Chapel

One of Ralph Adams Cram's more entertaining fantasies--along with a dream of a giant gilded reredos in Saint John the Divine--was his plan of a graduate school chapel at Princeton where the old university Latin translation of the Book of Common Prayer would be prayed with pomp and ritual more medieval than Cranmerian. He never built that chapel, nor did the Liber Precum Publicarum business get off the ground, but he did leave a splendid university chapel, albeit one with a distinctly low-church altar set in a deep high-church chancel.

The chapel exterior.

A mannered interior. Unfortunately the altar is treated witha certain aesthetic and sacramental timidity.

A detail of the pinnacle. Treating the element as a turret with windows is the sort of understated innovation typical to Cram's work.

Another view.

Overall, the design is elegant and workmanlike, if not as excitingly rugged as his work at St. John the Divine or as cleverly responsive to its surroundings as St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue. I have never been there, so perhaps the more unique aspects of the design are not apparent in photographs. A stranger aspect is I recall that some of the windows have a distinctly literary bent--The Divine Comedy and Pilgrim's Progress rather than more a more liturgically coherent program, and which suggests the notion of the chapel as a piece of symbolic campus furniture than a truly sacramental center. Indeed, the principal weak point of the design--a certain mechanical feeling in terms of the combination of its parts--seems to be the result of the problems inherent in building a college chapel at what must have even then been a campus that was essentially secular.

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