by Flo Johnston | Photography by Katherine Clark
About 240,000 people visit Duke Chapel in Durham every year. Some attend its non-denominational worship services at 11 a.m. on Sundays. Others may come for the annual performances in early December of Handel’s “Messiah,” to hear periodic organ concerts on one of its four organs, or to enjoy a program by its 150-member choir that includes students, faculty and staff as well as community members.
A “great towering church” to dominate the Duke University campus was the dream of James Buchanan Duke, its benefactor. It might be more accurate to say a “great towering Gothic cathedral” that over the years has attracted more than 6,000 couples who want a wedding to remember.
The chapel, built from greenish-gray stone, quarried in nearby Hillsborough, has breathtaking stained glass windows, majestic wood carving and stone sculpture.
The chapel is always open, and during the day, people often slip into its quiet 2,000-seat sanctuary for meditation and prayer.
A yearlong restoration, the first since it opened in 1932, was completed in May.
On a visit, be sure to note little quirky things, like a window that includes a green devil and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s belt buckle on his statue at one of the front portals where the sculptor carved “USA” but realizing his mistake tried to turn it into “CSA.