Although, at first glance, the Cadet Chapel appears to be of simple design, a more detailed study will reveal the carefully integrated and detailed embellishment of its military Gothic lines. The Chapel, however, does differ from the typical Gothic structures in that its embellishments and decorations are far more simple and more severe than those of the European cathedral.
Examination of the north face of the Chapel from the Galilee porch illustrates the manner in which the embellishments emphasize the military character of the building. Above the great arch of the north window is a shield bearing a cross pommée. Over the shield is a scroll with the Latin inscription "Quis ut Deus." The shield, the cross, and the inscription refer to the Archangel, St. Michael, the Captain of the Host, "Who is like God."a A niche designed to hold a statue of the Archangel is seen above the shield and scroll. The niche, however, has not been filled. The pendants, the lower carved portions of the pinnacles of the canopy above the niche, represent the evil spirits vanquished by St. Michael.
Directly above the center door is a Crusader's sword embedded in a cross. Just as Galahad's sword was embedded in a stone which bore the inscription, "Never shall men take me hence, but only he by whose side I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight of the world," so is this sword embedded in the Cross to be drawn forth by the Christian knight only in defense of those things which the Cross represents.
The two buttresses on the north face are comparatively simple in design. Each, however, bears a slender pinnacle which culminates in a pendant carved in the shape of a hand crushing a small lizard. These pendants refer to the purpose of the sword embedded in the cross, the defense of those things which the cross represents and the defeat of evil.
The great doors themselves are of interest because of the Latin inscription appearing on the hinges, "Deus qui conteris bella et in te sperantium ; auxiliare famulis tuis implorantibus misericordiam ." This may be translated, "O God, who dost crush out p28 war and by Thy powerful defense dost defeat the assailants of them that trust in Thee, come to the help of Thy servants who implore Thy mercy."b
Above the clerestory windows on the east and west faces of the Chapel are stringtables whose carved figures tell an interesting story. The architect, Bertram Goodhue, and the sculptor, Lee Lawrie, followed the mediaeval Gothic plan of integrating several subjects in such a stringtable. Beginning with the southernmost figure on the west side of the Chapel, the stringtable presents episodes from the Arthurian legends. The first carving shows two knights at "noiseful arms and acts of prowess done in tournament or tilt." The second carving depicts a knight with a Crusader's shield kneeling. He might well be speaking the words found in Tennyson's The Holy Grail:
"I heard the sound, I saw the light,
But since I did not see the holy thing
I sware a vow to follow it till I saw."
King Arthur's classic, Camelot, is shown in the next carving. Next to this is a scene from the Coming of Arthur which Malory describes: "And in the midst of the lake, Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white Samite that held a fair sword in that hand." Thus Arthur found Excalibur. Following this carving are portrayals of other incidents in the Arthurian legends. Crusaders, and retainers such as bowmen, minstrels, and torchbearers are also shown. The last figure before the tower represents Sir Galahad holding his lance with his war‑horse prancing in the background. Tennyson described Galahad thus: "My good blade carves the casques of p29 my tough lance thrusteth sure; my strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure." The stringcourse figures on the northwest tower represent Joan of Arc, King Richard the Lion Hearted, and Lancelot and Elaine.
Torchbearer from the Clerestory Stringcourse
The east face of the Chapel continues these themes. The north face of the east tower shows St. George battling the dragon. The next figure portrays a kneeling knight. Other figures portray knightly retainers, including a jester and a man-at‑arms. The Arthurian legend is resumed with a carving showing Arthur donning his armor for his last battle. Galahad's death is shown with Sir Percivale and Sir Bors mourning him. The next figure portrays Arthur receiving his last wound, "King Arthur, then, because his wound was deep, the bold Sir Bedivere lifted up him." Bedivere is then shown with Arthur's sword Excalibur, about to return it to the arm in the lake which "caught him by the hilt, and brandish'd him three times, and drew him under in the mere." The last two panels on the east face show first, the Holy Grail and, then, the knight's armor stacked for the last time. This is emblematic in that, after life's struggle is complete and the soldier's armor is put aside for the last time, the Holy Grail symbolizes the reward for the Christian knight.
Crusader with Battle Axe from the Clerestory Stringcourse
It is unfortunate that the sculptured stringtable figures are not easily visible, for the carved bosses are beautiful examples of sculptured art. Much attention is given to detail, detail which is lost when the figures are viewed from the ground level.
Knight with Sword from the Clerestory Stringcourse
The south face of the Chapel is almost without adornment other than p30 the tremendous Sanctuary Window. However, above the window is a plaque which is unique in many respects. The plaque consists of a cross. Above the left arm is the letter "Ι"; below the left arm is the letter "Χ" above a crown which is, in turn, above a gateway. Above the right arm is the Alpha; below it the Omega. Under the Omega is a chalice with a viper rising from it. The entire plaque alludes to two quotations from St. John. The "Ι" and the "Χ" refer to the Greek words for Jesus Christ. The crown and the archway refer to Christ's words in St. John, xiv:1‑10, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one cometh unto the Father, but by me." The Alpha and the Omega on the right of the plaque refer to Christ's words found in the Revelation of St. John i:8, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord." The chalice and the serpent are the symbolic representation of St. John. This representation is based upon the tradition that the priest of Diana gave him poisoned wine to drink. When St. John made the sign of the cross over the chalice, however, the poison escaped in the form of a serpent.
The St. John Plaque
The decoration of the tower is unique in that the sculptured figures of its stringcourse portray military duties. For example, the west face has a soldier carrying books, a soldier with a bucket and a brush, a soldier kneeling, a soldier reading, a soldier playing a cello, and a soldier with a drum. The remaining faces of the tower portray figures with similar attitudes: men praying, soldiers with various cleaning materials, and musicians. The embellishment of the tower is in keeping with the Gothic nature of the Chapel: the subjects are of military character and their humorous attitudes may be compared to the humorous figures found in many of the Gothic cathedrals.
Man with Brush from the Tower Stringcourse
The exterior decoration of the Chapel blends perfectly with its over‑all simplicity of design. The ostentatiousness of the later Gothic cathedrals was felt inappropriate by Goodhue for over-embellishment would conflict greatly with the severe, almost austere, lines of the Chapel. The simple story of the clerestory stringcourse, the humorous figures of the tower, the plaque on the south wall, the great sword and the shield of the north face — these embellishments have been blended into the Chapel as a part of the building until they are no longer embellishments but are, instead, an integral feature of the structure itself.
The Cadet Chapel Interior
Stepping through the center doors into the Nave, the visitor immediately finds his attention focused on the altar, its reredos, and the Sanctuary Window by the unbroken expanse of the center aisle and the battle flags which hang above the arcade arches. Nowhere else does the Chapel so vividly reflect the military character of its worshippers as here where flags carried in battle in many wars hang in serene stillness broken only by the voices of the Corps at Sunday worship.
These battle flags hanging from the triforium have caused the Chapel to be compared often to St. George's Chapel, Windsor, England, and to the Church of St. Louis at Les Invalides in Paris. Old National and regimental colors are alternated. The regimental flags include artillery standards and infantry colors carried in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and the Philippine Insurrection. Famed old regiments are honored here — the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Artillery Regiments; the 6th, 14th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Infantry Regiments, to name but a few. The American flags displayed include that of the 4th United States Artillery carried in the Civil War and four carried by the Corps of Cadets — two during the Civil War period, one from 1890 to 1897, and one about 1912.
The stained glass windows are, perhaps, the most impressive of the Chapel adornments. The Sanctuary Window, the North Window, and the clerestory windows, which are the gifts of the various graduating classes, are discussed in detail elsewhere in this booklet.
Furnishings of the Sanctuary and Chancel
Four beautifully carved corbels mark the intersection of the transepts with the Nave and the Chancel. Carved by Lee Lawrie, the noted American sculptor whose work adds so much to the beauty of the Chapel, these corbels represent the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew is found at the left intersection of the transepts and the Chancel; Mark on the right. Luke is at the left intersection with the Nave; John on the right. The figures represent the traditional portrayal of the Four Evangelists. St. Matthew is shown as a winged man because his gospel deals the human genealogy of Our Lord and throughout emphasizes p34 His manhood. The winged lion is used to represent St. Mark because of the allusion in Mark i:3 to "The voice of one crying in the wilderness", symbolized by a lion. St. Luke is portrayed by the winged calf because his gospel described very fully the atoning sacrifice of Christ, a calf or an ox being the commonest symbol of sacrifice. The eagle, believed to soar higher than any other bird, is the emblem of St. John, because his gospel expresses the divine nature of Christ in the most exalted terms to be found in the New Testament. It is sometimes said that these four figures signify, respectively, humanity, royalty, sacrifice, and divinity.
Companion carvings to the corbels of the Four Evangelists are eight carved corbels representing virtues. These are found in the upper transepts, four on either side of the Chapel. Each virtue is represented by a human figure whose position exemplifies that particular virtue. A scroll at the foot of each figure carries, in Latin, the virtue's title. The east transept has these virtues: Pudicitia, Modesty; Temperantia, Temperance; Humilitas, Humility; and Largitas, Liberality. In the west transept are found: Misericordia, Mercy; Modestia, Obedience; Pietas, Piety; and Patientia, Patience. Many of the old Gothic cathedrals, both in England and in France, contain carved representations of virtues. There appears to be no set pattern as to number or selection of the virtues used. The eight virtues found in the Cadet Chapel may well be termed eight virtues which would most benefit the military man.
The pews of the Chapel are of simple pattern without decoration of any p35 type. The only adornment to be found on the pews may be seen on the book rests of the Superintendent's pew, the front pew on the right side of the Nave. Here on brass plates are etched signatures of each of the superintendents who has occupied that pew.
The pulpit and the lectern, standing in front of the Chancel wall, are of traditional design. The pulpit is made of wood, carved with symbolic fruits and leaves. The lectern is very similar to many lecterns seen in old English churches. Its adornment consists of carved figures of the Four Evangelists. The Bible which rests upon the lectern was brought from the old Chapel and is dated 1892.
The book rests of the front choir stalls have many carved symbols including roses, oak leaves, and acorns. These book rests also contain many bronze memorial plaques, indicating gifts to the Chapel in memory of graduates. The hymn boards on either side of the Chancel portray angels singing.
The organ screen on the east side of the Chancel is a memorial to the Women — mothers, wives, and daughters — of the Army. Dedicated in March 1931, the screen, in addition to carved tracery, has eight carved angels: four full-length figures and four half-length figures. These are angelic musicians, seven playing various instruments — pipes, French horn, concertina, violin, lute, harp, trumpet, — and one singing. The screen was designed by E. Donald Robb. The west organ screen is much simpler in design than the east, not having the carved figures. The Chapel architect, p36 Bertram G. Goodhue, designed this screen. It was installed in 1911 at the time the original organ was purchased. This screen bears the words: "With angels and archangels and all the company in Heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name." Both screens were carved by the Irving Casson Company.
The choir galleries have very little ornamentation. The west gallery contains the font which was presented as a gift of the Class of 1869 on the fiftieth anniversary of its admission to the Military Academy. The galleries contain two carved bosses: an angel with a lamp and an angel with an hourglass. The lamp symbolizes wisdom, the hourglass, timeliness.
The Sanctuary is dominated by the altar and its reredos, so much so that many other fine embellishments often are not noticed. The altar is carved from a single block of marble. Upon the retable stand a Latin cross and six candlesticks, three on either side of the cross. The reredos, also the work of Lee Lawrie, rises above the altar. The central figure is Archangel St. Michael, the Captain of the Host. He is shown killing the demon, symbolic of evil. The niche containing the Saint's statue has a Crusader's sword on either side. In a smaller niche on the left is the coat of arms of the Military Academy; on the right is the coat of arms of the United States. Their hands resting upon the hilts of their swords, two warrior angels form the outer faces of the reredos. On either side of the reredos are the colors of the United States and the Corps of Cadets.
The wood paneling on each side of the reredos holds ten shields. The p37 shields on the left are carved to represent events of the Old Testament; those on the right tell the story of the life of Christ. In the far left corner is a shield with Alpha upon it. Next is a shield with a saw, emblematic of the prophet Isaiah who was sawed asunder by two soldiers using a wood saw. The shield with the rod indicates Moses who used the rod in performing many miracles including the parting of the Red Sea so that the children of Israel might cross. Then in succession are shown: the tower of Babel; the ox, emblematic of Elijah who sacrificed an ox and called for fire from Heaven to consume his sacrifice; a scroll, symbolic of Hosea; the lion which Daniel faced in the lion's den; the shield's crook belonging to David; the loaves of bread and the pitcher of the prophet Melchizedek; and the large fish which swallowed Jonah. The shields which portray the life of Christ begin with an angel, symbolizing the Annunciation. Other shields contain: the Star of the Epiphany; a symbolic representation of the Three Wise Men; two doves symbolizing the Circumcision;c a pyramid symbolizing the flight into Egypt; the all‑seeing eye, representative of the baptism of Christ when the voice of God was heard to say, "This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased";d the chalice used at the Last Upper; the cross upon which Christ was crucified; and a peacock, emblematic of His resurrection. The last shield displays the Omega.
Within the sanctuary rail are several other interesting features. The two seven-branched candelabra are truly works of art. Each portrays six angels holding various symbols of virtue. These are: unlocked fetters, mercy; p38 scales, justice; tower, fortitude; crown, honor; book, wisdom; and the flaming heart of love and devotion. The angels are clothed in white, red, or blue; these colors are symbolic of purity, love, and truth, respectively. At the left, near the concealed entrance to the vestry, is the chair used by visiting clergymen. This is of design similar to the old Roman camp chair. At the right of the reredos, against the west wall, is a small and unornamented credence, a small table used for holding the Communion elements and vessels. Next to it are the sedilia or clergy stalls. These are of particular interest because of the four carved armrests which represent two figures of the Old Testament and two of the New Testament. The first figure portrays Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. Next to Aaron is Peter, one of the twelve apostles. Paul, the militant disciple, is a companion figure to Gideon, a military man of the Old Testament. The tops of the stall partitions have been shaped to correspond to the capitals of the fluted shafts supporting the vaulted ceiling. The floor of the Sanctuary is made of handmade tiles incorporating iconographic symbols.
The visitor who has examined these embellishments walks back to the central door, under the corbels of the soldierly virtues and the Four Evangelists, and beneath the old, faded battle flags. On either side of the door are two carved stone figures at the base of the internal faces of the north buttresses. These figures are impressionistic interpretations of Adam and Eve with the apple and the serpent. Their attitudes seem to indicate the cares and troubles of the world, symbolized by the heavy buttresses resting upon their backs, which became their lot when they were expelled from Paradise.
The simple dignity of the architectural features and the adornments of the Cadet Chapel form a perfect setting for the religious services for the Corps of Cadets. Here, with warm sunlight filtering through the multi-colored panels of the many stained glass windows, with the soft light of flickering candles lighting the simple altar and its impressive reredos, the cadet is able to worship in his own way and well able to say these words of the Cadet Prayer: "May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural."
The old hammered-copper door leading to St. Martin's Chapel contains one of the most symbolic decorations to be found in the Chapel: a cross which incorporates a broken hourglass and a shattered sword, the symbol of the departed Christian knight. The broken hourglass indicates that the sands of life have run out; the shattered sword shows that he has come to the end of his military exploits, his last battle is over. The cross symbolizes the promise of the life to come.
Entering St. Martin's Chapel, the visitor's attention is immediately drawn to the altar and dossal on the south wall. Framed by the two massive center pillars, the scarlet dossal provides a striking background for the graceful cross which incorporates the design of the cross-embedded crusader's sword seen above the center door to the main Chapel. This cross is made of finely polished wood and bears upon it in metallic finish the two‑handed crusader's sword whose hilt is gold; the blade, silver; The arms of the cross bear the Latin inscription "Labora Sicut Bonus Miles," which may be translated, "Work Like A Good Soldier."e The cross with its embedded sword and inscription is appropriate for the Chapel named in honor of St. Martin of Tours, a soldier and militant saint of the church.
The altar itself is extremely simple, almost severe in design. It is made of a single block of stone. Carved in the front is a circumscribed Greek cross. Above the arms of the cross are the letters "ΙϹ" and "ΧϹ"; below the arms, "ΝΙ" and "ΚΑ". These letters have been used for centuries to indicate the Greek words for "Jesus Christ is Conqueror." The embroidered frontal was presented by members of the Merrill's Marauders Association in memory of their former commander, the late Major General Frank D. Merrill.
To the right of the altar, in a niche designed for this purpose, is a small and unornamented credence, a table used for holding the Communion elements and vessels. A similar niche to the left of the altar contains the lectern. The burial areas are concealed by tan monk's cloth drapes.
The two pillars supporting the massive vaulted ceiling are beautifully p40 embellished. •Five feet in diameter, the pillars are plain except for the capitals which are at eye level. These capitals are carved to represent figures relating to death and the resolution.
The design of the capitals of both pillars includes the creatures of the night: moles, rats, owls, earthworms, bats and snakes. All of these creatures are emblematic of death and burial. Other symbols, interwoven with the figures of death, represent factors relating to burial. A cross from whose arms hang scales denotes final judgement based upon Christian living. A scythe cutting grain is symbolic of the end of life. An ancient pair of scissors is emblematic also of life's end. A butterfly is included as a symbol of the soul. A peacock is indicative of the resurrection. Thus, taken in their entirety, the capitals tell the story of the end of life, the judgement of the soul on the basis of Christian living, and the resurrection.
It is, indeed, unfortunate that St. Martin's Chapel is not open for inspection by visitors. The limited means of access to this beautiful and symbolic portion of the Chapel make it impossible to open it to the general public.
from frieze, St. Martin's Chapel
Another section of the Cadet Chapel which, unfortunately, cannot be opened for inspection by the general public is the loft and the tower. This area is of interest, not because of its adornment or its beauty, but because of its uniqueness.
Entrance to the loft, the attic above the Nave, is made by climbing the circular stone staircase enclosed in the northwest turret or tower. Seventy-five steps lead to the upper level of the tower where three narrow windows open to the north. From the tower floor, eight wooden steps lead to the attic level.
Here a long catwalk extends the length of the Chapel. The catwalk passes under the beams which support the roof. Beneath the walk can be seen the upper section of the vaulted ceiling. Covered with the dust of years, the tiled outer surfaces show the strength which is masked by the beauty of the inner faces.
The central tower rises above the intersection of the Nave and the transepts. The catwalk leading across the loft enters the tower in what may be called the control room for here is the control panel, or console, for the Chapel bells. The actual instrument is a strange wooden rack from which project twelve hand levers and four foot pedals.
The bells are located on the next level of the tower. An iron spiral staircase leads to the belfry, thirty‑two steps above the control room. The twelve great bells are hung from massive wooden frames arranged parallel to the sides of the tower. These bells were presented by Mrs. James M. Lawton in 1919 as a memorial to her father, Major General Robert Anderson, Class of 1825, defender of Fort Sumter. They were made by the Meneely Bell Company of Troy, New York. At the time they were installed, the bells were recognized as the finest set of American made bells in the country, having a wide range beginning with D as the tenor bell. This bell weighs •3,500 pounds. The total weight of the twelve is •about 14,000 pounds.
Every evening at six o'clock, a cadet chimer begins the traditional p42 evening concert with "West Point Peals." The chimer strikes six deep notes, the tolling of the hour. A wide variety of songs are used: hymns and other sacred music, traditional airs, and special music for specific occasions. The chimer can, in the more complicated pieces, play a chord of up to three notes by using both hands and one foot. The cadets volunteer for the task of playing the chimes and take great pride in the unbroken line of cadet chimers.
From the belfry, fifty-eight steps up the spiral staircase take one to the roof of the tower. Here a wide expanse may be viewed to the east, south, and north. To the west, almost on the same level as the top of the tower, is Fort Putnam, restored from its Revolutionary War ruins. The great height gives the impression of being suspended in air, of being closer to Heaven than to earth.
The Chapel Cornerstone
a This isn't as clear as it could be. Not the Archangel Michael, who is like God! — but the Archangel Michael, whose name is usually interpreted as meaning "Who is like God?"
Some of the garble may be due to the difficulties of transcribing traditionally abbreviated Latin; for a good example of which, with commentary, this 13c inscription will serve as well as any. What looks the most corrupt of all, however — defsiois — is essentially correct, lacking only the bars that mark it as an abbreviation of defensionis.
The translation . . . the power of Thy defense . . . would be more accurate.
d The pyramid and the all-seeing eye also figure together on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.
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The Cadet Chapel
(G. S. Pappas)
History of West Point
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Page updated: 18 Oct 13