Field Work Friday – Duke Chapel

This week we ventured somewhere a bit different: Duke Chapel on the Duke University Campus in Durham, North Carolina. 

Knowing only that it’s a beautiful church, we were anxious to see what it looks like – and we weren’t disappointed!

We parked in a nearby parking garage and walked up to the Chapel from the side.


Doesn’t it look old and Gothic?

We learned from our fabulous tour guide Betty that it’s neither.  In true Gothic architecture, the tower is over the altar or on either side of it, but the people who commissioned this building wanted it to stand out – so they had a large tower built over the Narthex.

The stone for this enormous building came from nearby Hillsborough.


The detail work in this building is amazing.  Everything is hand-carved from wood or stone.  As you walk through the large oak doors into the Narthex, six statues stand on either side.  I must confess that I can’t remember who all of these men were, but Martin Luther stands on the left of the doorway and in the above picture, Robert E. Lee is in the middle.

The ceiling of the Narthex is a very long ways up – and even that is incredibly detailed.

Much of the detail work in the Chapel centers around the number three, symbolizing the Trinity.  You can see it in this front-door window …

and carved into the archway above every door.

After entering the Navis, or Nave, the main part of the sanctuary, one must trek 291 feet to the altar.  Must be awful for nervous brides!

There are 77 windows in the Nave consisting of over 1 million pieces of stained glass in two tiers.  The upper windows feature scenes from the Old Testament, while the lower windows feature New Testament stories.

The Chapel has two organs – one in front and one in back.  The one in the back is the bigger of the two and is played for an hour each day.  It is absolutely enormous – and it creates very beautiful music.

Over 1500 people can attend services at this church at one time.  The choir seats 150, and this area also features lots of amazing carvings.

A small chapel off to the left of the altar has a much homier feel, still with extravagantly beautiful windows …

and three sarcophagi carved from Italian marble.

Downstairs the windows are simpler …

and there’s a children’s play area, though I don’t know if I could get used to having my children attend Sunday School in a crypt.    Not sure about that.

Heading back upstairs …

we looked for some of the funny quirks that the carvers created as they worked.  Can you find the mouse they carved into this column?

Duke Chapel is an amazing building full of history and beauty.  It’s open every weekday and for services on Sunday, so if you’re ever in the area, stop in and check it out!  You won’t be sorry.

Our everyday surroundings quickly become routine and we miss the special beauty all around us.  What fun attractions and architecture might be fun to explore with your child?

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