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The Chapel

The Chapel. Date unknown. Photographer: Kosti Ruohomaa. Catalog no. 1241.1.

Although a permanent chapel had been discussed, voted on, and sent to committee regularly during President Allen's tenure, the project gained the force of conviction only under the leadership of Leonard Woods, Bowdoin's fourth president.

Ambitious and expensive, the program for the Chapel from the very beginning required unusual talent, untiring efforts, and enormous patience. The architectural ideas that Leonard Woods must have gathered in Europe in 1840 required more than a Brunswick builder to carry out. As it happened, a Trustee, Robert Hallowell Gardiner, found the appropriate architect. In 1835 the young English emigre Richard Upjohn had designed Oaklands for the Gardiner family in Gardiner, Maine. One of the first Gothic Revival structures in America, the stone house still confers a romantic aura on its grounds.

Gothic and stone were key ingredients in Woods's mind for giving substance to the needs of a combination chapel, library, and picture gallery. And, as Woods, Gardiner, Joseph McKeen (the college treasurer and son of Bowdoin's first president), and Charles S. Daveis exchanged letters, the program began to take shape. Woods to Daveis in March 1844 mentions that there is a preliminary plan from Richard Upjohn that should fall within the $15,000 budget, that the Chapel should be in the Gothic or Romanesque style "imposing and pleasing, though plain and simple," but that they cannot afford granite.1

Never before in Bowdoin College's fifty-year history had such documents included the word style. The symbolic as well as the physical importance of this new building were immense, and the decision to use the Romanesque rather than the Gothic turned on two factors, one religious and one financial. Richard Upjohn was a devout Anglican who had by traditional association and modern predilection equated Gothic architecture with Anglican practice. Upjohn had some difficulty reconciling Gothic design with the less formal liturgical demands of the Protestant sects that he encountered in the United States. He suggested the Romanesque alternative, following from a similar solution for the Congregational Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, New York, on which he was already working when he accepted the Bowdoin commission. (Three years later he developed a similar scheme for a Romanesque chapel at Harvard that was never constructed.) Both Upjohn and Woods were earnest thinkers and ardent medievalists who knew the difference between Romanesque and Gothic and who recognized the significance of introducing a Romanesque vocabulary into the United States.

The other deciding factor was cost. Upjohn was not indifferent to the College's fund-raising problems. During the busy year of 1844 he suggested to Woods that the Romanesque would be "within your means."2 When the practical president realized the expense of appropriate Gothic articulation, he was ready to accept a change to Romanesque. He did not, however, need to concede on stone, although earlier there had been talk of brick.

The chapel project was beset by funding problems. The initial amount of $15,000 was raised in two years by the president, faculty, boards, and alumni. Additional funding came in 1843 with the settlement of a lawsuit in favor of the College, owing in no small part to the perseverance of the president. Bowdoin College was residuary legatee to the estate of James Bowdoin III, the College's original benefactor. When Bowdoin died, he left his estate to his nephew, James Bowdoin Temple, on the conditions that Temple change his surname to Bowdoin and that he live in the United States. Should he or his issue die childless, the estate would go to the College. Although James Temple Bowdoin had a son, his having chosen to live in England for most of his life made the College's claim legitimate. In a settlement, a little over thirty-one thousand dollars was secured for the College, some of which was spent on the Chapel.

Upjohn was engaged in 1844, and by 1845 the need for more money was apparent. It was decided to approach former Governor William King, a Trustee and resident of Bath, who pledged $6,000.

By 1846, when the exterior had been completed up to the clerestory windows, another fund-raising effort was made. Professor Thomas Upham approached the Congregational churches on the grounds that Bowdoin had always had an essentially Congregational character, "as Yale and Trinity are known respectively as the College of the Episcopalians [Trinity] and Congregationalists [Yale] of Connecticut."3 Most of the members of the Boards signed a document declaring that Bowdoin College "has been and still is of the Orthodox Congregational denomination."4 About $70,000 was raised for the Chapel and other college needs by Upham and his helpers, most of it in private donations from New England Congregationalists.

However, the Chapel was not a Congregational church. In his dedication speech, Charles Daveis made reference only to the lines in the charter stating the College's mission of "the advancement of virtue and piety, as well as learning."5

By the end of 1848 almost $32,000 had been spent. Drives undertaken in 1850 and in 1854 garnered many gifts, among them $3,100 from Mrs. Sarah Hale, in whose father's honor Banister Hall, the library section of the Chapel, was named; and $1,000 from Theophilus Wheeler Walker, whose mother's name, Sophia Walker, was given to the new picture gallery. In all, $44,600 was raised for the Chapel; the total cost was $46,790. Upon Governor King's death in 1852 it became apparent that his estate could not pay the $6,000 pledge. Faculty members, including Thomas Upham, signed notes for as much as $ 1,500 against donations they hoped to secure to make up the deficit.

The project was delayed by lack of funds, but it also suffered the delays of any major architectural endeavor. The architect's office was in New York City, and the correspondence reveals the College's reliance on his direction during what must have seemed long periods of waiting. Upjohn had to dispatch supervising masons and roofers to oversee the local workers. While Upjohn did not have to oversee the framing and carpentry carried out by Samuel Melcher, the local housewright often had to suspend his work while waiting for the other builders to complete their tasks.

The design, a joint effort of Leonard Woods and Richard Upjohn, was complex in function and in symbolism. In particular, it solved the College's spatial problems while providing Bowdoin with a monumental structure that became the focal point of the quadrangle. In light of their success, it is interesting to note a letter of 1844 from Joseph McKeen to Robert Gardiner expressing a concern for the difficulty in designing a building large enough to appear respectable between the "great college halls."6

Woods was wise to insist upon stone and Upjohn well advised to find a way to provide it. The large, irregular grey blocks create an insistent strength that is impossible in brick. If there was negotiation over the number of towers, Upjohn again carried the day. With ample nineteenth-century precedent for a single, central tower or an offset tower, the choice was made for twin towers to echo the German Romanesque style of the eleventh and twelfth centuries and its nineteenth-century successor, the German Romanesque Revival. For the Bowdoin campus the twin towers are indeed impressive; they rise 120 feet, almost twice as high as the peak of the nave. Nothing mitigates the upward thrust: a vertical row of four tall, narrow, round-arched windows leads the eye to the larger, two-part, louvered openings in the belfries. Above these, the tower walls pull up into gables terminated by stepped corbels, a strong molding with finials on each point. Rising from behind the gables are the four-faced stone spires whose summits are crowned by pointed finials.

In order to accommodate chapel, libraries, and art gallery, Upjohn relied on the Latin cross plan of many medieval cathedrals; his adaptation created, however, a new set of proportions. The nave (which is the chapel) is flanked by two doors which appear to lead into side aisles. In fact, they lead to rooms designed for the Peucinian and Athenaean libraries which have no direct access to the Chapel.

The side elevations suggest a transept, the crossing of the T of the nave to separate the high altar of medieval times. Closer examination reveals that Upjohn did not extend the transept vertically to the height of the nave, nor did he use the full length to the east wall for the Chapel. The east end, called Banister Hall, was the College's library, with the upper floor housing a meeting room, a study for the president, and the art collection. To signal the separate function of the east end, Upjohn changed the rhythm of the first-story fenestration: the large two-part window is flanked by tall, narrow lights like those of the lower.

The new proportion created by a shorter transept has a distinctly classical, rather than medieval cast, typical of the German Romanesque Revival. These lateral projections do not soar as the towers do; they have a rational scale. This effect is enhanced by the strongly profiled basement, the projecting bracketed window sills, and the finials. Upjohn's decision to make the lateral spaces a relatively low story, instead of bringing them higher on the nave, allowed for large clerestory windows to light the Chapel. This decision also influenced the proportion of side windows to wall height. And, while the side doors are nicely scaled, the central portal is rather conservative for the height of the nave.

The interior of the Chapel, and to a lesser extent that of Banister Hall, were freighted with Woodsian romanticism. Through his reading and through his observations in Europe, Woods was convinced of the importance of color, design, and texture. A more complete departure from the prototypical New England meeting house cannot be imagined. As much as his forebears mistrusted delighting the eye, Woods seems to have felt that visual stimulation and pleasure aided exalted thoughts and religious contemplation.

The correspondence confirms the care with which each element was planned. The strong influence of the English collegiate chapel is most obvious in the lateral ranks of seats, set up to face each other rather than the chancel end. Woods concerned himself with finding the appropriate wood for the wainscoting; designing the chancel screen; adjusting the stained glass colors in the clerestory to allow enough light for reading Scripture; deciding on plaster rather than wood for the corbel table; and, finally, eliciting a design for the painting of the ceiling, the trusses, and the walls above the murals.

The painting of the interior caused considerable tension between architect and client. Gervase Wheeler, another English emigre, recently arrived in New York, had experience designing polychrome walls and ceilings. He was a persuasive speaker for the new form of decoration and was not above outlining Upjohn's deficiencies in this field.7 In fact, Wheeler designed the painted decoration for Banister Hall as an experiment. By the time the Chapel was ready, Wheeler was in disfavor, and William H. Pierson, Jr., feels that the plans for the chapel decoration were made by Upjohn.8 The actual painting was done by German decorators between summer 1852 and January 1854. Before Wheeler left Brunswick, however, he designed the Boody-Johnson House (included in the Third Walk).

It was sixty years before the fourteen murals were completed. In a letter to Woods, art critic William J. Hoppin advised him that: "We cannot obtain pictures which will be perfectly satisfactory. There is too much ignorance, I am sorry to say, even among the artists themselves."9

Thus, a decision was made to commission copies of great religious paintings from the past. Those on the north wall are from the New Testament, on the south wall from the Old Testament, and on the chancel or east wall, two angels after Fra Angelico. Two of the murals are from Michelangelo, and five are from Raphael, including the Transfiguration. Some were painted directly on the wall, while others were painted on a support that was glued to the wall. To Woods, the experience, however filtered, of known masterpieces, would educate the worshippers.

The Bowdoin College Chapel is secure in the continuing authority of its design and its effect on the rest of the College and the town of Brunswick. Upjohn and Woods created a medieval chapel-library that served both formal and utilitarian purposes and was capable of striking awe in the beholder.

Upjohn's work in Maine was not limited to Gardiner's Oaklands and the Bowdoin College Chapel. Two houses and a now-destroyed church in Bangor predate Oaklands, and there are a number of frame board-and-batten Episcopal churches built according to plans published by Upjohn for the use of modest parishes. The First Parish Church in Brunswick (included in the Third Walk) was designed by Upjohn for the local Congre-gationalists while he was working on the Chapel. St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Pleasant Street in Brunswick was also designed by him.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

1. L. Woods to C. S. Daveis, March 9, 1844, Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Chapel.

2. R. Upjohn to L. Woods, Apr. 15, 1844, Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Chapel.

3. T. C. Upham to L. Woods, Aug. 1, 1846, Sp. Coll., Leonard Woods Papers: Correspondence, Aug.-Dec. 1846. Quoted in Helmreich, pp. 74-75.

4. Cleaveland and Packard, p. 21. Helmreich, p. 181, note 54.

5. Sp. Coll., C. S. Daveis Papers: Correspondence, 1840-1864.

6. J. McKeen to R. Gardiner, Feb. 9, 1844. Sp. Coll., R. H. Gardiner. Joseph McKeen's copybook, also in Sp. Coll., contains copies of his letters to Gardiner and others, 1837-1863.

7. G. Wheeler to L. Woods, Sept. 29, 1847. Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Chapel: Box 1.

8. William H. Pierson, Jr., "Richard Upjohn, Leonard Woods, and the Bowdoin Chapel Conspiracy," talk, October 29, 1981.

9. W J. Hoppin to L. Woods quoted in Pierson, p. 28.

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