Bond Chapel: a tour in words

Bond Chapel serves as the location for a wide variety of spiritual and ceremonial events as well as performing arts events. 

The cornerstone of the chapel was laid by Mrs. Bond on April 30, 1925, and the chapel was opened in October, 1926. 

The Reneker organ, a fine baroque tracker organ placed in the chapel in 2012, makes it a destination for baroque and early music, but it is also a valued space for many other kinds of musical performance. It seats about 150 persons. 

All the main aspects of the Bond Chapel—its location, architecture, inscriptions, furnishings and stained glass—serve to mark its place (both physically and symbolically) within the University. In whimsical, imaginative, and picturesque ways, the stone carvings outside and the wood carvings inside call attention to the eternal struggle between right and wrong and to the aids and securities offered by the religious community.

On the outside, chiefly along the sides and the back, are monochrome gray stone sculptures of hideous and noxious creatures: imps, demons, dragons, lions, griffons, and grotesques. They cling precariously to the cornices. They jut from the corners. They slide down the waterspouts. The west wall holds the scriptural quotation, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." Here also may be seen the figures of Adam and Eve with the snake and apple, suggesting at once the weaknesses and the possibilities of human nature. On the east facade, the sculptures are more benign: musical angels, a peaceful eagle, and a medieval Good Shepherd. These invite you to the interior of the chapel.

Within, on the east wall of the narthex, there hangs a bronze plaque designed by the famous sculptor Lorado Taft, which reads: "Erected in Memory of Joseph Bond for the Worship of God and the Service of Man, 1926." This inscription was composed by Mrs. Bond. A section of the wood paneling near the tablet has been carved to read "Peace I Leave With You." In the carved screen that separates the narthex from the nave, one sees birds among vines and grape clusters, a bird-and-plant symbol as old as the catacombs, symbolizing human souls secure in the mystical vine that is at once Christ and the Christian community—the vine and the branches of the Fourth Gospel.

The cast window, above the balcony, carries the legend, "In Loving Memory of Elfleda Bond Goodspeed 1880-1949," with a descriptive word at the bottom of each of seven panels: "Brave-Generous-Loyal-Wise-Patient-Thoughtful-Kind." The north stained-glass windows read: "And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ." The south stained-glass windows read: "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise-Be thankful unto Him and bless His name."

The balcony, which was constructed in 1955, carried the Schlicker baroque organ until 2011 and now carries the Reneker organ; carved in the wood of the balcony railing are the words: "Praise God in His Sanctuary—Praise Him for Noble Acts—Praise Him on Lute and Harp—Praise Him on Strings and Pipe—Praise Ye the Lord."

On the open-beamed roof are polychrome angels, some with outspread wings, playing various musical instruments: cymbals, pipes, violins, horns, and harps. Hammer-beam angels with folded wings, extending several feet from the walls, patiently hold up the suspended lights of the chapel. Both groups silently join in a continuous service of praise and thanksgiving. Some of the Beatitudes are carved in a frieze around the wall, and through this pierced screen the chapel is heated in winter. The Beatitudes included here are "the merciful," "the pure in heart," "the peacemakers," "they that mourn," "the meek," and "they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness."

Inlaid on the front of the altar is a superb Byzantine design, with the urn of memory standing at the center. The urn symbolically contains the ashes of death, but by a perpetual miracle there springs from it the luxuriant foliage of a living vine. On either side of the urn stand peacocks, popular embodiments of hope for immortality, witnessing the miracle of life coming from apparent death.

In the chancel space around the altar, carved in the canopy above the altar and looking down, are winged, child-faced cherubs, recalling the gospel words, "Beware of feeling scornful of one single little child. For I tell you that in heaven their angels have continuous access to My Father who is in heaven." The most intense and striking concentration of symbolism in the Chapel is seen in the chancel window (to the west), directly above the altar and its canopy.

The window was the creation of Charles J. Connick of Boston, America's greatest colorist in glass. The circles in the lower lancets present the names and symbols of Jesus' disciples. At the very center of this tier are the medallions of John the Baptizer and Elijah the Prophet. Thus Jesus himself is placed in the succession of Jewish prophets. In the second row of lancets, at the top center, are the symbols of the great apostles: James of Jerusalem, Paul of Tarsus, and Peter. The two windows at either end of this range carry the four creature symbols which the Jews and early Christians used apocalyptically, but which patristic and medieval writers associated with the four evangelists. In the traceries above appear range on range of celestial creatures, nine pairs of them, grouped about the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, at the center. Here are Seraphim with hearts, Cherubim with book, Thrones and Dominions, Principalities and Virtues clad in full panoply, and Powers with tiny imps of Satan chained to their feet. Angel organists and trumpeters provide musical accompaniment for the celestial pageant. The chancel window, then, is a sort of comprehensive spectacle of the whole New Testament, beginning with the kingdom activities of Jesus and his friends in Palestine, continuing with the hellenized reinterpretation of primitive Christianity to the gentile world by Apostles and evangelists, and ending with the apocalyptic visions of the Patmos seer, in which choirs of angels and archangels united to ascribe: "Blessing and honor and glory and power to him who is seated on the throne and to the lamb for ever and ever." A vision of heavenly worship is the colorful climax of the Chapel symbolism. 

This text is based in part on a talk by Professor Harold R. Willoughby, delivered on May 2, 1939, in Bond Chapel.