Light on the Hill

Goddard Chapel restored to its 19th-century glory

The copper-coated organ pipes gleam, splendid as a newly minted penny. Warm amber light filters through a stained glass window into the sanctuary. The cherry wood ceiling ribs arch gracefully overhead. And from the top of the high stone tower, a light shines all night on the Hill.

This is Goddard Chapel, 2003—an old building made new. And yet, were Mary Goddard to return to visit the chapel that was made possible by her generosity 120 years ago, she would likely not be surprised by its appearance.

The Rev. David O'Leary, university chaplain, at the front of refurbished Goddard Chapel. At left is the restored Hook and Hastings organ. © Mark Morelli

The university chapel, which has undergone many alterations since it opened in 1883, has been refurbished. The sanctuary was restored—for the most part—to its original condition. On March 13, the campus community re-dedicated its spiritual center.

"A space like this, dedicated to theses purposes, now more than ever is needed in our lives," said the Rev. David P. Hubner, director of ministry and professional leadership for the Unitarian Universalist Association, speaking at the twilight ceremony. "In times like this, we come to our holy places to find a sanctuary, a sense of peace, beauty, music, love, companionship, a sense of unity.

"May this Goddard Chapel, transformed, reinvigorated, revived, continue in this long service to the community and to the larger world," Hubner said. "May it not be a sanctuary that keeps others out; may it continue its long service as a place of deep comfort."

'Just wonderful'
Goddard Chapel, with its 100-foot bell tower, was constructed in 1882-83 from slate quarried in Somerville, Mass. The chapel was designed to hold the university's entire student body, which had outgrown daily services in Ballou Hall's Coolidge Room.

image of the chapel ceiling

Brass chandeliers illuminate the wood ceiling. © Mark Morelli

Since then, many changes have been made to Goddard. Some, such as the addition of electric lights and a lavatory, were necessary modernizations. Others were prompted by the styles of the times. For example, in the late 1950s, the ceiling was painted blue, and two large screens were added on either side of the chancel, hiding the pipes of the Hook and Hastings organ.

In summer 2002, the university began renovations to both the interior and exterior of Goddard. The result was a sanctuary returned very much to its original appearance. Paint was stripped from the ceiling, revealing the natural cherry ceiling ribs and spruce paneling, creating a brighter, more open feeling for those seated below.

"To be here is just wonderful," said the Rev. David M. O'Leary, university chaplain. "We appreciate the generosity of the university for re-investing in this building." Reaction to the renovations has been heartening, he said. "Alumni, especially, are just shocked at the improvements to this building."

The front screens were removed, revealing again the brilliance of the organ's case pipes. In its day, Hook and Hastings was a premiere organ manufacturer. The Andover Organ Co. of Methuen, Mass., took up the task of rebuilding the organ to its original style, covering the case pipes in copper powder, as they were when the organ was installed.

Andover also restored the front of the chapel—most significantly, re-installing four stained-glass windows that originally had adorned the chancel across from the organ. While three of those windows had been hanging in the chapel's lobby, the fourth was discovered by workmen beneath a pile of rubble in the basement.

"A lot of people think those windows are new," said O'Leary.

Memorial windows
Goddard's five stained-glass memorial windows, designed by chapel architect J. Phillip Rinn and artist Tomasso Juglaris, are among its most striking features. The early 1880s were still early years in the development of the new art of American stained glass, and Rinn's technique of etching the color onto the glass through an acid process was innovative for its time.

Also significant is the subject matter of the windows. The dominant window, in memory of Mary Goddard's husband, Thomas, features Saint Paul, while at the other end of the chapel, a window in memory of Tufts' first president, Hosea Ballou 2nd, depicts Saint John the Evangelist. One of the side windows depicts Saint Mark.

stain glass window

One of the five stained-glass windows, designed by chapel architect J. Phillip Rinn and artist Tomasso Juglaris. © Mark Morelli

Such overly religious imagery was not typical for a Universalist chapel at the time, O'Leary said. While established as a secular institution, Tufts' founders and early presidents had ties to the Universalist movement—most were Universalist clergy. "To have these pictures of saints in a Universalist chapel was extraordinary," O'Leary said.

The renovations also included a lot of work that visitors to Goddard won't see, O'Leary said. "For the first time, the foundation has been re-done," he said. In fact, the main portion of the work involved the exterior of the chapel, including a new beacon in the bell tower, which now remains illuminated all night.

The chapel was closed for a little more than seven months while the renovations took place, O'Leary said—not an easy thing, because Goddard is used by so many in the campus community for so many different functions. In addition to Catholic and Protestant worship services, the chapel is used for weddings, baptisms, memorial services, concerts, recitals and meetings. From July 2001 to June 2002, for example, there were more than 400 scheduled events at the chapel.

The renovation project's architect was McGinley Hart & Associates of Somerville, a firm specializing in historical preservation projects. The structural engineers were Amman & Whitney, and the construction firm was Shawmut Design and Construction.

At the re-dedication ceremony, Steven Makris, E72, of Amman & Whitney, presented a donation to the newly formed Friends of Goddard Chapel Society. O'Leary hopes the Friends can grow into a vibrant organization to fund other needed improvements in the chapel—such as new seat cushions or renovations to the pews—along with programs that will help nurture spiritual life at Tufts.

'Splendid geography'
The March 13 re-dedication ceremony was marked by the delivery of the 2003 Russell Lecture by the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church at Harvard University. The Russell Lecture is the oldest endowed lecture series at Tufts. Last year's speaker was Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

stain glass window of jesus

Such overly religious imagery was not typical for a Universalist chapel in the late 1800s. © Mark Morelli

"The office of the college chaplain is a great and splendid one," Gomes said. "One of the benefits is we get to occupy the most splendid geography on campus."

It is a sign of "Tufts' maturity as an institution" that the university chose to renovate Goddard Chapel, said Gomes, an American Baptist minister who has served at Harvard's Memorial Church since 1970.

"[Tufts] took on a noble task, to reclaim the spiritual inheritance of this place," he said. This "dedication to something beautiful and tasteful from the past, because you think it will be beautiful and useful in the future" sends a clear and positive message to future generations, he said.

"These buildings are sacred spaces. What happens in this space, in ever-changing accents and in ever-increasing styles, is unique. People are reminded of something more that even the greatest of us cannot provide.

"Our predecessors know full well that a person was not properly educated until he was forced to contend with the great and important questions of meaning and being," Gomes said. "Everything in our colleges is a problem to be solved…only in this place, this is not the case. We do not regard problems as matters necessarily to be solved. We do not solve problems; we enter into mysteries. We worship what we do not know.

"This space was not made sacred simply because someone said so. It is dedicated to eternal things, things that do not pass away and are all the more eternal because we do not see them," Gomes said.

"You have chosen to refurbish a jewel. Tonight it shines; it glows; it beckons for generations to come."