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History of Alice Millar Chapel

Construction was begun with the breaking of ground on Easter afternoon, April 21, 1962. In preparing the site, five houses were removed from the ground, including the former residence of the late Dr. William H. Parkes, who deeded his residence to the university some years before and at that time expressed his hope that one day that location would serve as the place upon which a university chapel could be constructed.

The buildings were designed by Edward Grey Halstead, senior partner in the firm of Jensen and Halstead, Architects and Engineers, Chicago. The contractor was the Gerhardt F. Meyne Company of Chicago.

Alice Millar Chapel

The chapel has a seating capacity of just over 700 on the main floor of the nave. The style of the building is contemporary Gothic, providing a blend of the traditional and modern. The exterior is an adaptation of Gothic architecture. However, the interior is, in many ways, contemporary. The undulating side walls, the design of the Holy Table, the chandeliers, and the design of the pews reflect a contemporary style. In addition, the stained glass windows are clearly of a contemporary design.


The building houses two chapels: the Millar Chapel with 700 seats was named for Foster G. McGaw's mother and the Vail Chapel with 125 seats was named for Jeanne Vail, Mary Vail McGaw's daughter. The building is situated on land donated by Dr. William Parkes, an Evanston physician and former Northwestern trustee. An adjacent building, Parkes Hall, housing classrooms and the chaplain's office, completes the complex. The building also hosts other University functions such as concerts, lectures and recitals.

The Chancel Windowchancel-window.jpg

The great chancel window at the front of the chapel encompasses all of biblical theology in the themes of "Creation, Redemption, and Triumph." The splay of red at the top center of the window signifies the life-giving, self-sacrificing love of God. A descending dove (a white v-like figure) is the bearer of God's love to the earth.

The lower third of the window depicts the creation of the waters of the earth and marine life. The center third narrates story of redemption, beginning at the left in the garden of Eden where the serpent is coiled around the trunk of a tree. Two large human figures kneel with hands clasped and faces covered in shame and humiliation. They have turned their backs upon evil and have come under the light of the cross and the open hand of God at the center of the window. A band of green color across their waists represent their hope in Christ. Our eyes move toward the right, where we see "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world." To the left of the lamb's head is a stalk of wheat, symbol of the bread of Holy Communion.

To the right of the lamb's head hangs a bunch of grapes, the symbol of Eucharistic wine. At the far right is a horse, symbol of dignity. Just below is a turtle, symbol of patience.

The upper third of the window represents the creation of the heavens. A great circle of gold, accented with green and red represents the sun. To the left is a circle representing the moon.

At the right is a cross with orb, an historic symbol of the reign of Christ in the world. Double-lined intertwined ellipses, which span the center of the window, remind us that this chapel was constructed in the "atomic age."

The Facade Windowfacade.jpg

The great facade window over the front entrance is visible in color both day and night, though each period of the day gives a different effect to the window. This window offers an invitation to all: "Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew I 1:28). The Willet artist said of it, "We have tried to express this as a singing manifestation of God's kingdom in its highest form, stripped of all detail, that it may clearly affirm the Holy Trinity." From the top of the window is the creative hand of God.

Immediately below is the all-inclusive Cross of Christ. The images are united in the immense wings of the Holy Spirit. The hand of God holds a perfect circle, symbol of the universe.

The Side Windowssidewindows.jpg

The side windows of the nave are designed to signify the work of the university in response to the creation depicted in the chancel window. The windows are meant to be in dialogue with one another, as if to ask what each what each endeavor has to say to its neighbors. Black arcs span the side windows, representing the world in which the university does its work. Click on the images at the right to see the full windows.

East Side Windows-left side, starting near the pulpit
West Side Windows-right side, starting near the lectern


The Pipe Organ


The organ is located in the gallery at the rear, or north end, of the chapel. The university chapel choir generally sings from the choir loft.

The Charles W. Spofford and Beula Merville Spofford organ was built by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston, Massachusetts. It was made possible by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Spofford, class of 1896. The organ case was designed by Edward Grey Halstead, architect of the chapel. The fifteen shields crowning the center section of the case are the liturgical symbols for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, flanked on either side by the symbols of the twelve apostles.

The Shieldsshields-imx.jpg

The order of the shields, reading from left to Right, is:

Crossed Keys-St. Peter
  • The key is the historic symbol of Peter, derived from Jesus’ words to him, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:18).
Cross Saltire-St. Andrew
  • Tradition has it that Andrew was put to death on a cross of this kind while preaching in Greece.
Three Shells-St. James the Greater
  • The escallop shell is the symbol of pilgrimage.
Chalice and Serpent-St. John
  • Early Christian writers reported that an attempt was made to kill John by giving him a chalice of poison to drink.
Cross and Loaves-St. Philip
  • Philip was present when Jesus fed the multitude with the loaves and fishes.
Ship-St. Jude
  • The ship symbolizes his missionary journeys.
Open Hand
  • Symbol of God the Father
Cross and IHS
  • Symbol of God the Son.
Descending Dove
  • Symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Saw-St. James
  • He died a martyr’s death and was “sawn asunder.”
Purses of Money-St. Matthew
  • The purses symbolize his work in the profession of tax collecting.
Spear and Carpenter’s Square-St. Thomas
  • The square represents this patron saint of builders who was run through with a spear by a pagan priest in India, where he was preaching.
Flaying Knives-St. Bartholomew
  • According to tradition, Bartholomew was flayed to death as a Christian by such knives.
Fish and Book-St. Simon
  • The Cananean Simon is so symbolized because, as an evangelist, he was a great fisher of men.
Book and Axe-St. Matthias
  • This was the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot and who was ultimately stoned and beheaded after his missionary work in Judea. 

Ranks of Pipespipe-organ1imx.jpg

There are one hundred ranks of pipes in five divisions: Great, Recit, Ruckpositiv, Brustwerk, and Pedal. The Ruckpositiv is placed on the gallery rail. The Brustwerk in the classic position is enclosed in its own case with doors on the front, operable from the console. The main body of the organ conforms to the classic placement of divisions, each in its own case. The pedal towers frame the manual divisions, which are stacked vertically in order: Brustwerk, Great, Recit. There are over five thousand pipes in the instrument.