“The Chapel is not just a building: it is an expression of human striving for the spiritual perfection that is beyond any of us.” - Peter Grant
A Building To Love Without Reserve1
That was the goal of the Chapel’s donor, William Gwynn Mather, class of 1877 —and the architect chosen to achieve that lofty height was Philip Hubert Frohman, principal architect of the Washington National Cathedral. In creating the Trinity College Chapel, Frohman sought not merely the enclosure of space, but the realization of a timeless “four-dimensional” work of art. Frohman said: “By the disposition of its material substance, it must enclose those who enter it in a way which will produce an effect upon their minds, which will cause their spirits to feel the presence and the reality of that which is not material and which cannot be seen by the mortal eye.”2 Frohman’s goal— and achievement—was not merely a Chapel which could be loved without reserve, but the realization of “a love for Divine Perfection.”3
The Trinity College Chapel is the unfinished masterpiece and final flowering of the American Gothic Revival. Soaring to a height of 163 feet, it is one of the world’s great sacred structures and a well-loved landmark on the Hartford skyline. Designed to embrace the finest architectural elements from the 11th through the 15th centuries, it is an original work of art in which no imitation or copying occurs. It is an American original. Frohman declared: “In the years to come, and especially when the interior of the chapel is complete in all its beauty, we hope that it may be said of each of those who are responsible for the final result as did President Eliot [of Harvard University] when conferring an honorary degree upon Augustus Saint-Gaudens:
‘He did not count the mortal years it takes to mould immortal forms.’”4
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the Chapel made of?
The entire building is constructed of load-bearing masonry—concrete and stone foundations, a core of brick, an exterior surface of Indiana limestone, and an interior surface of Indiana limestone and plaster. The exterior roofs are of slate and copper, and there are no concealed steel supports whatsoever. The entire Chapel is built the way it would have been constructed in the middle ages.
What are some of the dimensions of the Chapel?
The length is 178’ 9”; the height of the tower is 163’; the width of the Choir is 33’ 6”; the interior height of the Choir is approximately 62’; the greatest width is 110’ 5.5”.
Are there any bells in the tower?
Yes. There is a carillon of 59 bells, cast by the John Taylor & Co. foundry of Loughborough, England. The bourdon bell (the heaviest) weighs 5,600 pounds, and is tuned to B natural. There is also space in the tower beneath the carillon for a peal of change-ringing bells (10 or 12) which has not yet been realized.
Does the Chapel have a pipe organ?
The Chapel has not one, but two pipe organs. The four-manual organ at the west end of the chapel, beneath the rose window, was made by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford (opus 2536—1972 & 2013); it contains 4,416 pipes. In the crypt chapel, there is a five-stop, mechanical-action organ by Nicholson & Co., of Malvern, England.
Is the stained glass finished in the Chapel?
No. Wherever you see diamond-patterned glass (called “quarries”) that is “temporary glass.” Those windows have yet to be fitted with appropriate pictorial stained glass—dark, 13th-century style glass in the tower, and lighter English 14th- and 15th-century style glass in the choir and sanctuary.
What remains decoratively to be completed in the Chapel?
The Great Depression had a severe impact on the construction of the Chapel, and much of its decorative scheme remains unfinished to this day. The list of unfinished projects is extensive, but here would be a few: there are uncarved blocks of limestone all around the building (most notably at the top of the tower’s four corner-pinnacles) which have yet to be carved, along with the uncarved shields on the tower; a carved inscription has yet to be rendered at the base of the tower; bays of wooden professorial stalls for the main Choir have yet to be created; stained glass windows, screens, chandeliers, and other decorative elements also have yet to be created. We are fortunate in having blueprints or designs for nearly all these projects, thus ensuring that we are carefully completing the building in accordance with Philip Frohman’s philosophies and intentions.
In 2015, Trinity College was bequeathed a number of world-class Gothic Revival objects by St. John’s Church, Bowdoin Street, Boston. It was one of the single greatest bequests of art in the College’s history. The incorporation of these exquisite works of art will greatly advance the completion of the building —and all these works of art are in sound sympathy with the plans and intentions of the Chapel’s architects. The gilt and polychromed altar and reredos (i.e., wall of decorative carving behind the altar) recently installed in the smaller Chapel of the Perfect Friendship is one of these gifts. It was designed by Ralph Adams Cram at the very time the Trinity College Chapel was being built. Cram was a contemporary of Philip Frohman and arguably America’s foremost Gothic Revival architect and theoretician. Five more gifts of outstanding quality await conservation and ultimate installation: a rood screen by Ralph Adams Cram; a great rood (hanging crucifix) by Henry Vaughan; seven antique sanctuary lamps of Italian provenance; and, most importantly, the high altar reredos by Ralph Adams Cram and Martin Mower— which will completely cover the wall above the high altar beneath the east window. The central gold-ground panel painting from that reredos which depicts Christ in Majesty—painted by Martin Mower—currently hangs above the high altar, awaiting its own conservation and—eventually—Cram’s surrounding reredos of gilt wood and polychromed statuary.
1 Trinity College Archives: William Gwynn Mather to Remsen Brinckerhoff Ogilby, President of Trinity College: 16 May 1929.
2 Files of the Clerk of the Works Canon Richard T. Feller, Washington National Cathedral: an undated manuscript for an article by Philip Hubert Frohman.
3 Trinity College Archives: Philip Hubert Frohman to William Gwynn Mather: 21 June 1929.
4 National Cathedral Archives: Philip Hubert Frohman to President Remsen Brinckerhoff Ogilby: 24 March 1933.