The university and the chapel
“That Students May Truly Know the Light of the World”
Dedicated Nov. 27, 1959
The University of Tulsa was founded by ministers of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in Muskogee as a mission school. Its first location in Tulsa was next door to the original First Presbyterian Church. This newly organized community of teachers and students was of and from the church, as the university seal testifies.
When Henry Kendall College was moved to its present site, the chapel was housed in Kendall Hall, the principal and most central building. In 1959, the university dedicated Sharp Memorial Chapel, an expression of the Christian Witness and devotion of Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Sharp, and the dreams of Dr. Clarence I. Pontius. Sharp Memorial Chapel remains a Christian chapel.
The chapel has been conceived as both a work of art and a useful tool. On the one hand, its very presence is symbolic of the majesty of God and the importance of faith in the lives of people. On the other hand, it has been designed to be a center of spiritual life for the campus community.
Centrally located on the campus, it was the final building to be located on the historic “U” now called Dietler Commons. The chapel stretches across the front for 116 feet and encompasses a total of 13,000 square feet. It is constructed from a special mixture of Arkansas and Tennessee stone.
Within the building are the sanctuary, the Josephine Meditation Chapel, the office of the Sharp Chaplain, the Robert C. Sharp Westminster Student Center, the Josephine P. Sharp Reception Suite, the Buford Atrium and the Martha S. Canterbury Suite.
As one sees and approaches the sanctuary from the north, the first reaction is to stop and look up toward the great window of art glass reaching to a height of 42 feet. The window itself is 6 feet by 31 feet. Upon closer approach the symbolism of the intricately cast bronze doors becomes evident.
As one enters the narthex, attention is immediately drawn to the Chancel Window, a glowing 10-by-28 feet of colorful art glass depicting the Risen Christ. The sanctuary is the focal point of the entire structure. Its design is termed basilica. It is 37 feet wide and 117 feet long. The great wooden Tudor arches reach their peak 42 feet above the floor. The interior walls repeat the stone exterior of soft tones of brown and buff, enhancing the soft but vivid tones of the eight art glass windows.
The Schantz pipe organ has a three-manual console containing 33 stops for a total of 1,750 pipes and a set of 25 Deagan Chimes. The pipes and chimes are located in chambers behind organ screens at either side of the great Chancel Window. The organ includes the classic flute and reed choruses of the 18th-century organ as well as some of the more recently developed tone colors necessary for playing 19th-century literature.
Symbolism of the stained glass windows
Pictorial symbols are more an elemental method of teaching facts and ideas of the faith than written language. One of the reasons for the development and wide use of the Christian symbols was the inability of many early Christians to read or write. As a result of the centuries of use by a multitude of people, often more poetic than historical, many symbols have acquired a variety of meanings, while many different meanings can convey the same meaning. Windows in the chapel were made by the studios of George L. Payne, from designs drawn by Pierre Millous, modern French artist. The glass was made at Chartres, France, near the famous Chartres Cathedral. Pictures and designs are produced by mosaic technique, not by painting. These are not “stained glass” windows, but windows made of many colors of glass set in a concrete and steel frame to produce the desired symbols. Individual pieces of the inch-thick glass are hand-chipped on the inside, so as to produce the soft diffusion of light that makes possible the brilliant colors without harsh effects.
Josephine Meditation Chapel
This is a small room set aside for private meditation or use by small groups. It is entered from the east side of the narthex to the sanctuary. Its design repeats that of the sanctuary. It is constructed of stone and cyprus wood. The focal point is the travertine altar and bronze cross. Carved on the marble altar is the favorite Biblical quotation of the donors Mr. and Mrs. Robert C. Sharp. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10).
This unique meditation chapel is set off by a spiritually eloquent cross that literally pierces the altar.
In the large window is the figure of a praying angel with white wings and hands folded in a spirit of awe and adoration. The other window shows a slender vine and recalls the words of the Lord recorded in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”