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Touring the Chapel of the Christ

April 4, 2010
By Kremena Spengler — Staff Writer

NEW ULM - The $8 million Chapel of the Christ is complete.

Chapel dedication services - expected to attract members of WELS (the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) and ELS (the Evangelical Lutheran Synod) from around the nation - have been scheduled at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 10, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 11.

Because of high interest, seating reservations have been urged.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of Martin Luther College/Bill Pekrul

This photo shows a partial overview of the interior of the Chapel of the Christ on the campus of Martin Luther College in New Ulm. The photo was taken on March 17, 2010, during the very first service conducted in the newly-built chapel. The service was attended by faculty, staff and students.

Special events are happening on campus throughout the weekend.

Saturday's events include: a children's choir mini-concert; an organ open console; seminars entitled "Walking Tour: History of Worship on This Campus" and "Christian Art and Architecture: A History of WELS Ministerial Education," the opening of a juried art exhibit called "Solus Christus," campus tours, and presentations in the chapel entitled "Art and Furnishings in Chapel of the Christ" and "Building of the Organ in Chapel of the Christ."

The chapel presentations will also take place Sunday.

A community open house has been scheduled from 1 p.m. till 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 1. Chapel tours and an organ demonstration have been scheduled during the open house.


Collecting funds to build a chapel began in 2000, as part of a thank-you offering on the 150th anniversary of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

The construction began in 2008.

Brief facts

The chapel's capacity is 1,000 worshippers, an additional 100 choir and overflow seating for 200.

The design seeks to incorporate as much natural light as possible; ample and flexible space for choirs and instrumentalists; audio-visual controls and unobtrusive screens for projection; and acoustics that favors the human and instrumental voice.

Some focal points of the interior include: a baptismal font; free standing altar; triptych (work of art divided into three sections, behind the altar); a suspended crucifix; and ambo (pulpit/lectern).

The chapel art

The chancel art and furnishings reflect Christian symbolism and the Lutheran heritage.

Two artists, Nathan Pope and his daughter Melanie Pope Schuette, have crafted wood and stone, paint and canvas into "pieces that not only seek to please the eye but to also inform and inspire the spirit," according to an article on the chapel art.

The altar

Pope built the freestanding altar with quarterstone white oak resting on 12 cut stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles.

His material is of the highest quality: quartersawn oak. Quartersawing, he explains, "is an extravagant way to cut wood, exposing the tree rings to create astonishingly beautiful looks..."

Pope filled the altar with Trinitarian symbolism. When looking at the front of the altar from ground level, worshippers will see three panels: a hand holding a scroll (the Father), a Lion (the Son, the Lion of Judah) and a sevenfold spirit of flames and eyes (the Spirit).

"This will be one of the few altars that you will ever see where Jesus is represented as a Lion," Pope says. "It's a very rare symbol of church art."

The ambo

The pulpit lectern is made of quartersawn oak, like the altar. Pope also added another unifying element, a molding freeze featuring a chevron pattern.

The tryptich

The triptych, or altarpiece, painted by Schuette, is structured around the theme "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

The left panel, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, represents Jesus as the Way. The larger middle panel, the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, represents Jesus as the Truth. The right panel, Mary and Martha, represents Jesus as the Life.

The three paintings are also united by a subtheme, Jesus as the bread of life. A loaf of bread figures in each painting, and careful viewers can observe how participants in the visual stories are responding to Jesus and his message.

The croce dipinta

Literally "painted cross," the croce dipinta is suspended above the altar. This crucifix is unique. It holds two corpuses, the dying Christ and the risen Christ.

The organ

The organ stands 42 feet tall at its highest point. It has 60 ranks, including three digital ones. The pipes number almost 3,300. The number of ranks and the scaling of pipes are designed specifically for this space.

This article is based on information from articles in college newsletters. Special thanks to Prof. Bill Pekrul for providing the information and photos.



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