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Irvine Memorial Chapel

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1922–1926, Ralph Adams Cram
  • Irvine Memorial Chapel (© George E. Thomas)

What could be more surprising in south central Pennsylvania than this extraordinary, historically based design for the school's chapel that exceeds most college chapels in its size and detail? The chapel was conceived as a memorial to students lost in World War I. Its cornerstone was laid in 1922 by Calvin and Grace Coolidge, whose sons were then attending the school. The building is generally English in inspiration with high buttressed walls of quarry-faced ashlar trimmed in Indiana limestone. Cram's use of English sources led to a strongly asymmetrical exterior with an east aisle that concludes at the south with a splendid tower crowned by a stone spire surrounded by slender finials. It is this tower that is visible for miles coming into town on PA 16. The interior is spanned by huge wood trusses that make the upper levels disappear into an almost infinite darkness and contrasts with the carved limestone and plaster surfaces of the nave and apse. Brilliant stained glass and ironwork (by Philadelphia's Samuel Yellin) makes for a satisfying interior. It is obviously calculated to create the emotional ties to place and institution, but to the less engaged eye it is particularly wonderful early on a summer morning when the north-facing front and the east tower are lighted, pointing to the continuing tradition of reorientation by the German denominations.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Irvine Memorial Chapel", [Mercersburg, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 387-387.

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