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Six of the Most Beautiful College Cathedrals in the US and UK

JAN 17, 2021 • 8 min read

In celebration of World Religion Day and the diversity of religions, cultures and backgrounds that flourish on university campuses around the world, we’ve put together a list of six of the most breathtaking college cathedrals in the US and UK.

Are you interested in studying at a top US or UK university? Beyond their prestigious academics, noteworthy faculty, talented students and promising opportunities, many of these colleges also boast beautiful campuses and — in some cases — truly magnificent places of worship.

Oxford Cathedral

Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral

Oxford and Cambridge are the oldest universities in Great Britain and are known for being two of the few UK universities to operate with a collegiate system. As part of this, most colleges have their own chapel or cathedral which are used for worship, choir and events. One of the most famous of these is Christ Church Cathedral. It is unique in the Church of England as it serves the dual role of being both a cathedral and college chapel and has played host to a choir since 1526. Much of the building is late Normon in design, but has elements ranging from Norman to the Perpendicular style and also contains a large 10-part rose window. Here’s a fun fact: many notable people are entombed there, including the philosophers George Berkeley and John Locke, in case any budding philosophers are thinking of a visit!

Cambridge Cathedral

Cambridge’s King's College Chapel

King’s College Chapel has been standing since the Wars of the Roses and has become a landmark and icon for the University of Cambridge. It is considered one of the finest examples of late Perpendicular Gothic English Architecture and was commissioned by King Henry VI himself. It is still actively used as a place of worship and also plays host to a variety of concerts and events put on by the college. Apart from its stunning looks including 12 ornate stained glass windows and a rood screen described as “the most exquisite piece of Italian decoration surviving in England,” it is the acoustics that truly make the Chapel worthy of its renown. The choir of King’s College Cambridge is world famous and the choir’s ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ has been broadcast by the BBC on Christmas Eve!

Stanford Cathedral

Stanford’s Memorial Church

Dubbed “the University's architectural crown jewel,” Stanford Memorial Church dwells on the main quad at the center of the Stanford University Campus. It was the earliest and among the most prominent non-denominational churches on the United States’ west coast and has had an instrumental role in establishing Stanford’s religious studies department. It was commissioned by university co-founder Jane Stanford who was quoted saying, “while my whole heart is in the University, my soul is in that church.” She was a deeply religious woman who was nonetheless an “open-minded ecumenicalist” who wanted every student to feel free to worship there, saying it should “serve the broadest spiritual needs of the university community.” 

Jane dedicated the church to her husband, Leland Stanford, and her own funeral took place there, officiated by clergy from several religious traditions, including a Rabbi, a Presbyterian minister, a Methodist minister, an Episcopal bishop, and a Baptist minister. Since being built, the Stanford Memorial Church has suffered two major earthquakes and has undergone major reconstruction on each occasion, including reinforcements to help it withstand future quakes. Today Catholic masses are held in the church several times a week and it is used by the community for “quiet, for reflection, and for private devotions.”

Cornell Cathedral

Cornell’s Sage Chapel

Sage Chapel is non-denominational and was commissioned by university Trustee Henry W. Sage after the university was accused of “godlessness” since Cornell was founded as a non-sectarian institution. Staying true to the university’s original values, the funds were given on the condition that the chapel “would never be delivered over to one sect” and that "students should be attracted but not coerced into it.” 

The chapel was opened in 1875, but the design has been altered over the years, including the addition of an apse in 1898 for the bodies of Henry Williams Sage and his wife and a north transept added in 1903. The interior is beautifully designed to represent both Christian and educational themes and is full of symbolism. Olive vines on the floor and walls symbolize fertility, while its color scheme spans a variety of meanings from purity and innocence (white) to fire, heat and the creative power (red). Sage Chapel is currently used for services, weddings, notable speaker events and is home to the university Glee Club and chorus. 

Notredame Cathedral

Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a Roman Catholic Church and a major tourist attraction visited by more than 50,000 people annually. As a venue for worship, it has come a long way since the community first started holding religious services in a small log cabin built by Stephen Badin. As needs grew, the church expanded, and today the basilica bell tower is 230 feet high, making it the tallest University chapel in America. It is neo-gothic in design, with an exterior constructed of Notre Dame brick and an interior adorned with three Gothic Revival style altars, multiple frescos designed by Vatican painter and artist in residence Luigi Gregori, and 116 stained glass windows consisting of more than 1,200 individual panels. In 1919 designs also began for a World War I Memorial Door with plaques to commemorate the 46 Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty who died in combat. 

Yale Cathedral

Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library

The Sterling Memorial Library wasn’t created and has never been used for religious purposes; however, it was designed to resemble a European Gothic cathedral fit with stained glass windows, stone ornaments and extensive sculptures and paintings. Its architect, James Gamble Rogers, wanted to build a cathedral on the campus but wasn’t able to, so instead repurposed his designs to become the “ecclesiastical metaphor” that is the Sterling Memorial Library. 

Rather than worshipping religious deities, the 680 unique stained glass panels depict scenes from the history of Yale and New Haven or are representative of the subjects contained in each of the reading rooms. It contains over 4 million volumes of books and is, in effect, a building created to worship knowledge and reading — the perfect theme for a university!

World Religion Day is recognized globally as a day to promote understanding and tolerance between all religions, with the goal of uniting people everywhere despite their religious differences. At Crimson, we celebrate diversity on every front and welcome any opportunity to learn about differences in beliefs and traditions. From all our offices worldwide, happy World Religion Day!

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