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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Cadet Chapel

George S. Pappas

(2nd edition)
West Point, N. Y., 1958

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p43  The Stained Glass Windows

Giving warmth to the inherent coldness of the typical Gothic cathedral are its stained glass windows. The symphony of color used in these windows was employed by master architects to give glory to God through a material which was, and is, the crowning accent to architecture.

The stained glass windows of the Cadet Chapel dominate, and at the same time blend with, the simple dignity of its interior. Few other churches of any size, in either the United States or Europe, have windows whose themes are so closely integrated and coordinated. The location of the Chapel on the site chosen by Cram does much to enhance the beauty of these windows, for light pours through the multi-colored panes unobstructed by any obstacle, natural or man‑made.

The Chapel windows fall into three natural groupings: the Sanctuary window, which is a memorial to graduates of the Military Academy; the Nave windows, which are the gifts of the various classes; and the north window, which is a memorial to the alumni who died in World War I. In the folio which they submitted in the 1903 competition, Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson stated:

"The style we have chosen for all the buildings would particularly lend itself to memorials of various kinds in the Chapel; for instance, tombs, cenotaphs, wall and floor tablets, and particularly windows of stained glass, each window, perhaps, being given in memory of one of the different graduating classes at the Academy."

The recommendation was accepted, and the clerestory and arcade windows of the Nave have been presented by the various graduating classes of the Academy. In recent years, graduating classes have presented not only a window dedicated to their own class but also a window dedicated to the class which graduated one hundred years earlier. When the clerestory windows have been completed, the Chapel will have windows dedicated to all the classes graduated from the Military Academy from 1802 through 1977, one hundred and seventy‑six class windows in all.​a

Due credit must be given also to William and Annie Lee Willet, of the  p44 Willet Stained Glass Window and Decorating Company, for their ability and genius have fostered the execution of these singularly outstanding windows. Their master plan has resulted in the beauti­ful memorials which complement so well the work of Bertram Goodhue.

The Class Windows

The windows of the clerestory were given a definite iconographic plan. The windows in the upper tier of the west side of the Chapel present scenes from the parables, miracles, and teachings of Christ. The saints, martyrs, and missionaries of the Church are portrayed in the lower tier windows. On the east side of the Chapel, the upper tier windows show scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, while the lower tier windows illustrate the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament.

In keeping with the custom established in many of the old Gothic cathedrals of Europe, medallion windows were designed for the upper transepts. The upper panels of the transept windows show incidents from the life of Christ. The predellas below these panels portray corresponding prophetic incidents of the Old Testament. Thus, in the west transept, Christ is shown in one panel being sold by Judas with the predella illustrating Joseph being sold by his brethren. The Boy Christ working as a carpenter is paired with the predella of the young David tending his flock. The third window in this series, all three given by the Class of 1922, shows Christ being led away from Pilate's judgment hall while Peter is vividly reminded of his base denial of The Lord by the crowing cock on the nearby wall. The companion predella portrays Jacob wrestling with the Angel at the ford of Jabok, when he craved forgiveness. The remaining windows in the east and west transepts are executed in similar manner.

The transept windows are of lancet shape and are grouped in six lights. Each light is a medallion window composed of a panel and its companion predella. Delicate tracery molds the window-heads into trefoil arches. Enclosed trefoils and other small openings complete the transept windows.

Each side of the Nave is divided into seven bays, each with a large clerestory window. These clerestory windows are divided into ten panels presented by graduating classes. The window-heads are molded into trefoil arches similar to those in the transept windows. Each clerestory window has trefoils and other tracery openings, in addition to the ten panels.

In each bay is a small arcade window of simple design. These windows are also the gifts of various graduating classes. Their subjects are a part of the over‑all plan for the Chapel windows.

 p45  The class windows of the Chapel show many of the familiar story of the Bible. Here can be seen Noah and the Ark, Samson's triumph over the Philistines, Elijah being fed by the ravens and other Old Testament incidents. The life of Christ may be traced from the Nativity and the visit of the three Wise Men to the Resurrection. When completed, the gift windows dedicated to the one hundred and seventyeight classes of the Military Academy will form a vivid picturization of Christian teachings. A complete listing of the class windows and a key to their locations are included in the appendix.


[image ALT: A pair of narrow vertical stained-glass windows. On the viewer's left, a haloed old man, bald but bearded, stands holding a large fish by the tail with his left arm and pulls a coin from its mouth with his right, with broken banners reading 'Open his mouth Peter and thou shalt find tribute money'. To our right, a benign-looking man in the robes of a bishop looks at us; he holds a quill pen in his right hand and cradles a large book in his left arm. The window identifies him as 'St. Anselm'. The left window bears the date 1952, and the right window a sort of medallion with the legend 'Nothing greater can be thought than God'. It is a pair of class windows in the Cadet Chapel of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.]

Class Windows Presented by the Sesquicentennial Class, 1952

The North Window

Complementing the class windows is the large window over the north entrance to the Chapel. This window, which was installed in 1923, is a memorial to the graduates of the Military Academy who died in World War I. The memorial text, which runs across the base of the entire window, reads: "To our graduates who died in the World War; 'Proudly their Alma Mater claims her own; May she have sons like these from age to age.' "

The north window, as a whole, is based upon the revelation of St. John on the Isle of Patmos, the revelation which was given him for the comfort of the early Christians in the midst of persecution and war. The central theme of the window is the triumph of Christ over sin and death. Supplementing the portrayal of His victory are the many subordinate visions which are a part of St. John's revelation.

The three central panels at the base of the window portray the Old Testament story of the sacrifice of Isaac. The Patriarch, Abraham, is shown on the right. "He that spared not his own son" was chosen to symbolize the parents who gave their sons in the World War. On the left is Isaac bearing on his shoulder a cross. Isaac was chosen to represent the Christian soldier offering himself freely in response to the call of duty. The center panel, which both Abraham and Isaac face, shows the altar of sacrifice and the angel of the covenant with head bowed on folded hands which rest upon an up‑right sword.

The center left predella portrays the servants, "beholding from afar" the scene of action, to whom Abraham said "Abide ye here and I and the lad will go yonder." They typify those who looked upon the scene of battle in which they were unable to take an active part. In the corresponding predella on the right is a ram caught in the thicket. The predellas in the extreme right and left lower corners are representations of the nation's  p47 highest awards for valor and bravery, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, both sets in fields of Chartres blue.

A transition from the earthly side of conflict to the vision of the future is shown in the upper section of the lower panels. This vision is suggested by the verse "And I saw Heaven opened and, behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True and his name is called the Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses." The three center panels of this section of the window portray this leader and his followers who have divided and put to rout the forces of evil, represented by four horsemen who are found in the panels on either side. On the extreme left, Famine on a purple horse is shown stumbling in defeat, his mercenary scales falling from his hand. Above him, vultures fly off into darkness. The text reads, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." To the right of Famine is Conquest, on a brown horse, mortally wounded, his bow broken. From above, Satan falls from Heaven. The text underneath reads, "And a crown was given him and he went forth conquering and to conquer." On the right, War rides a red horse. The text for this panel is, "Power was given him that he should take Peace from the earth." On the extreme right is Death, holding a scythe, the last to be overcome. The text for this panel is, "And there shall be no more death."

In the central predella of the second tier of panels, St. John, upon whose vision the theme of this entire window is based, is shown sitting in the midst of the Tree of Life, "whose leaves were for the healing of the nations." The branches of the tree are carried into the side predellas. St. John is shown with his symbols, the chalice with the serpent, and the eagle. In his hand he holds a crozier. In the predella to the right is Daniel with his "windows opened towards Jerusalem". The predella to the left shows Isaiah, who was able to see The Lord in all his beauty. Both of these Old Testament prophets were given glimpses of the same comforting vision later revealed to St. John.

Above St. John, in the center panel, are Mary and Baby Jesus. The wings of an eagle embrace Her; above is the open Book of Life, open that all the world may be judged. In the panel to the left is an angel holding a sickle ready for the harvest. An angel with a flaming sword and the scales of judgment is shown on the right. In the panels on either side are the twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments and crowned with diadems. They hold harps and are shown in positions of adoration. In the outer panels are angels in shining armor guarding the heavenly places. The armor of  p48 these angels is fashioned to represent the nations which took part in the World War.

Christ is portrayed as Conqueror, King, and Priest in the central upper panels. The left panel shows Him in the person of the Archangel, St. Michael, holding aloft the banner of the cross. The dragon, slain by Michael, lies beneath his feet, its seven heads easily visible. In the panel on the right He is shown as a priest in the person of the Archangel, St. Raphael. In the background are the seven lamps of fire, the Jewish scroll, and the Cherubin. Beneath Raphael's feet is the Ark of the Covenant with winged Seraphim kneeling upon it. The central panel portrays Christ as King with the earth as His footstool. Below is the slain Lamb folded in the blood-stained banner.

The predellas under these three panels present groups of martyrs and witnesses. The texts read: "Under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held." and "These are those who have come out of great tribulation." The panels of the outer divisions of this tier are filled with angels in bright armor. Here, as in the other side panels, the angels wear armor fashioned to represent the nations which participated in the World War.

The quatrefoils and small openings above contain the angelic host joining in song to the "Worthy Lamb which was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing." The Academy motto, "Duty, Honor, Country", is emblazoned in the bottom predellas, complementing the memorial inscription of the window.

The Sanctuary Window

Beauti­ful and attractive as the class windows and the north window may be, it is the Sanctuary Window which most impresses casual visitor and worshipper alike. Completely filling the apse of the Chancel, the window has been likened often to the sanctuary window of the Chapel of St. George, Windsor. On sunny Sunday mornings, the soft light filtering through its many richly-colored panes casts an aura over the entire sanctuary.

The memorial window was first conceived at the annual meeting of the Association of Graduates in June, 1907, when one of the members suggested that some commemorative gift to the new Chapel, then in the process of construction, should be presented by the Association as a memorial from the living graduates to their predecessors. After much discussion, the suggestion was referred to the Executive Council for study and recommendation.  p49 At the annual meeting of 1908, the Association agreed to sponsor the Sanctuary Window as a memorial, and a committee of three — Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.C. W. Larned and Lieutenant Colonels J. M. Carson, Jr., and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.W. B. Gordon — was appointed to carry out the plan.

The committee invited several stained-glass firms to submit plans for the window. These plans were submitted to a jury consisting of the committee and four prominent architects who were experts in ecclesiastical structures: C. Howard Walker, Charles C. Haight, Frank Miles Day, and Milton B. Medary, Jr. As a result of this competition and subsequent redesigning, the Willet Stained Glass and Decorating Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was selected to execute the memorial window.

Funds for the window were contributed by graduates of the Military Academy throughout the world. The list of subscribers is of interest even today, for the names of some of these men have become known throughout the nation although, in 1910, they were known only to a small military circle. Here are found the names of Lieutenant Henry H. Arnold, Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George S. Patton, Jr., Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Alexander M. Patch, and many others who were on the threshold of lifelong careers devoted to the service of their country.

The first window to be installed in the Cadet Chapel, the Sanctuary Window represents the "Genius and Spirit of West Point", as symbolized by the heroes of the Old and New Testaments. The designers of the window, William and Annie Lee Willet, stated their concept of this theme in their description submitted to the Window Committee in February 1910:

"Our aim and purpose in designing this window, dominating its importance and influence upon the beholder, has not been to produce merely a correct ecclesiastical and ecclesiological decoration, adhering faithfully to those principles that marked the highest development of the art of stained glass in the Eleventh and Thirteenth Centuries; not merely conforming its structure, scale and detail to the architecture; all these essentials are of course vital, and have been respectively been given their proper study and appreciation; but we have sought to do more than this — to design a memorial that shall teach a great spiritual truth, emphasizing by scenes of Biblical and accepted church history 'The Genius of West Point' through the heroes of the Old and New Testaments.

"A note of victory rings true through the entire composition. The victory over sin and self. That is only possible through a belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Captain of our salvation. In designing a window of such large proportion, in such a building and for such a purpose, the temptation is great to make some heroic subject that would command attention  p50 by its very size and prominence, but we have refused to yield to what would prove an architectural blunder and have, therefore, kept our subject matter small in scale, introducing a series of militant events, iconographically interwoven, thus creating a design that will furnish constant food for thought and study in future generations; feeling, also, from a decorative standpoint, that these successive tiers and groups of figures will add a feeling of great height and mystery to the composition, at the same time enhancing the vertical effect."

The success with which the Willets executed this concept is self-evident to the viewer who looks at the window immediately after entering the north door of the Chapel.

The central five bottom lancets symbolize "The Genius of West Point" and its motto, "Duty, Honor, Country", by portraying the Old Testament antetypes of Christ, who is the personification of the highest type of patriotism. On the extreme left, David and Jonathan symbolize friendship, a virtue which military life particularly develops. The predella below shows David's victory over Goliath. the left center panel is devoted to "Duty", as exemplified by David's three mighty men of valor: Eleazor, Shammah, and Abishai, whose unfailing devotion to their chieftain is one of history's outstanding examples of devotion to duty. The predella of this panel illustrates David pouring out the water which he refused to drink because it had been obtained at such great cost.

In the center lancet, Moses is portrayed at the Israelites' great victory over the Amelekites. At this battle, when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; when he lowered his hands, Amelek seemed to win. Therefore, when his hands became heavy, Aaron and Hur held them up until, at sundown, Israel had won a great victory. In this manner, Moses honored God by this simple act of obedience and was duly rewarded. This lancet is devoted to "Honor", signifying that the Christian soldier, in order to secure victory, must ever hold up those forces within him which stand for righteousness and truth, realizing that once he lowers his standards and principles, he is lost. The predella of this panel shows Moses in the burning bush with the Ten Commandments, the basis of all honor and duty, obedience to God and His laws being the first principle of honor and patriotism.

The right center panel is dedicated to "Country". Here is shown Jephthah who, although banished from his country in disgrace through no fault of his own, returned at the request of his countrymen in their hour of need. The predella below portrays Jephthah in battle. The lancet at the extreme right of the center section of the Sanctuary Window completes  p51 the series of heroes of the Old Testament with Gideon and Joshua. Gideon's triumph with his band of three hundred and Joshua's capture of Jericho are examples of God's honoring those who take Him at His word. In the predella, Moses is shown anointing Joshua as his successor. The motto of the Military Academy, "Duty, Honor, Country", is emblazoned in the three center lancets in letters of fire.

All five panels of the center tier are devoted to a symbolical, rather than a realistic, portrayal of the Crucifixion. Christ is depicted in triumphant attitude with uplifted head as He cries, "Consummatum Est!". In the same manner that the hands of Moses, in the lancet below, are shown lifted by Aaron and Hur, so are the hands of The Savior shown stayed upon the cross, lifted up until righteousness prevails, that sin might have no dominion over us. In the group at the foot of the cross are Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and Mary the Mother of Christ. Others in the group are St. John, the Beloved Disciple; St. Longinus, the Centurion; and the soldiers of the Roman Guard. All are shown in the attitude of deep reverence and thought best characterized by the words of St. Longinus, "Truly this is the Son of God." The panels on either side show angels holding the symbols of sacrifice; the chalice, the crown of thorns, the nails, the ladder, and the spear. In the Corona surrounding Christ are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. The text running through the bottom of these five panels reads, "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

The upper tier of five panels portrays the consummation of the life and sacrifice of Our Lord, The Savior risen in glory. He is shown in His robes of Kingship, dignified and supreme, holding the blood-stained banner of the cross. In the two panels on either side are angels singing their praises. The lancet at the extreme left shows the Archangel, St. Michael, and the Apostle, St. Paul, while the panel at the extreme right portrays St. George and the Apostle, St. Peter. The Lamb on the book of the Seven Seals is shown above the figure of Christ.

The predellas of this central upper tier are of special interest for they show, in a processional treatment, the martyrs of Sebaste, soldiers of the Twelfth Roman Legion. Forty men of this Legion were Christians who were tortured and persecuted by the Emperor Liciniusb in the Fourth Century. One of the forty recanted during the tortures, but the remaining thirty-nine remained faithful until death. The Centurion of their guard was so impressed by their spirit of Christian heroism that he immediately became converted, tore off his armor, and joined the little band of Christians.  p52 Thus he won for himself the remaining crown of the forty which had been prepared in Heaven for the forty warriors. He is shown in the center predella being led by two angels to receive his reward and to behold the glories of Christ's Kingdom. These five predellas are a memorial to those brave sons of America whose bodies today lie in unknown and unmarked graves, but whose spirits have long since heard the words inscribed under the portrayal of the Martyrs of Sebaste, "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life."

The side panels are devoted to the militant saints and martyrs of the church standing like quiet sentinels holding their swords and palms. The text to which these panels were adapted is "The Noble Army of Martyrs Praise Thee". The key to these panels, and to other sections of the Sanctuary Window, is found in the appendix of this booklet.

The smaller openings at the upper part of the window, the quatrefoils, and traceries contain the emblems of the four Evangelists, the Alpha and the Omega, and Cherubin and Seraphim of the church triumphant.

In the predella in the extreme lower left hand corner of the window is the Coat of Arms of the Military Academy; next to this is a symbolic medallion of Christ on a white horse — "The Son of God goes forth to War" — holding the Word of God which is the power of the spirit, sharper than any two‑edged sword, giving us that strength so necessary to win the daily battles over spiritual and moral enemies. In the extreme lower right predella is the Coat of Arms of the United States. In the predella to the left is shown the death of the Christian knight, the angel of victory over him, and attended by the prayers of the saints, symbolical of the text found in the Apocalypse, "Blessed are the dead that die in The Lord". The memorial inscription extends across the entire bottom of the window and reads, "To the Glory of the God of Battles and in the faithful memory of the departed graduates of the U. S. Military Academy, West Point, Erected by the Living Alumni, MCMX."

[image ALT: A pair of drawings of two small corbels, each showing a naked person of indistinct gender, on their knees, in a near-fetal position. Depicting Adam and Eve, they are carvings on interior buttresses of the Cadet Chapel of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.]

Interior Buttress Embellishments, Adam and Eve

Thayer's Notes:

a So the text: but no class graduated in 1810 or in 1816, and there were two classes in 1861, 1917, 1918, and 1943: so the sentence should read "one hundred and seventyeight class windows in all". The number is confirmed in the Appendix, where with military planning the class windows are listed thru 1977, nearly twenty years in the future at the time of the second edition of this booklet.

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b A 1911 review of the chancel window, "The Willet Chancel Window in the West Point Chapel", The Lotus Magazine, 2:199‑209 makes the same mistake ("Lucinius", p207): Maj. Pappas may have picked it up there, or, as seems to me more likely, both drew on a press release of the time, with its error.

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Page updated: 7 Oct 15