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To the Glory of God
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To the Glory of God

The great cathedrals of the world – St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris – all have something in common with even the most modest of parish churches and chapels affiliated with institutions such as Notre Dame College: they were all built to the glory of God. The dreamers and architects of these extraordinary edifices created spaces that exist solely for the purpose of worship in special places symbolizing heaven on earth, a respite from the mundane and escape into the sacred. The towering height of these holy spaces can only suggest man’s reach toward heaven.

John WinterichThe cathedrals, churches, chapels are steeped in religious symbolism. Not viewed simply as art, every ornament, sculpture, mosaic, and stained glass window has ecclesiastical meaning that represents a holy person or event in the history of the church.

A recent meeting with John Winterich, president of John W. Winterich & Associates Designers and Craftsmen, opened the door to the meanings of some of the ecclesial features of Notre Dame College’s Christ the King Chapel, and another door to questions about them. Winterich’s company was involved with the original interior work of the Chapel under the direction of his grandfather and is now charged with the refurbishing of the interior of Christ the King Chapel.

According to Winterich, “Each stained glass window medallion contains a religious symbol. I have not yet been able to decipher the over-arching theme of the symbolism, although I’m sure there is one.”

Walk around the Chapel and you’ll see one dove with an olive branch, flames emanating from a dove at another window, a crown of thorns and whip, the Ten Commandments, a butterfly. Some of the meanings are obvious. Some may require more reflection to understand.

Although the Chapel is named Christ the King, the stained glass window over the sanctuary and the marble statue at the entrance both suggest the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This seems contradictory to Winterish

A second tour of the Chapel, this time with former sacristan and professor of business administration Sr. Helen Burdenski ‘62, revealed some history and more details about Christ the King Chapel. She explained, “Whether the symbolism points to ‘Christ the King,’ or the ‘Sacred Heart,’ they both represent Jesus Christ.”

While the symbol of the Sacred Heart is present in both the stained glass window and the statue, Sr. Helen pointed out the statue today is not quite what it was when it was originally placed in the Chapel. Along with the symbol of the Sacred Heart, Christ also held a scepter in his right hand and orb in the left – longtime symbols of a monarch in both sacred and secular art. At some point in time, probably during the statue’s move to its current location, the scepter broke away and has not been found.

Whether it is "Christ the King" or "Sacred Heart," the sanctuary's stained glass represents Jesus Christ.As for the name of the Chapel, we were reminded that the Chardon Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame is known as “Christ the King.” The name of the Chapel pays homage to the Sisters who sacrificed so much to build this edifice dedicated to the glory of God.

Although many beautiful and meaningful artifacts and embellishments grace the Chapel’s interior, there were many more that might have been added had the economy not soured during those years leading to the Great Depression. Thomas McLaughlin’s original blueprint for the Chapel showed beautiful architectural detail that was never realized in its completion. According to Winterish, “The ceiling was originally designed with incredible wood decking and large wood beam trusses with turned wood details. The bottom of the ceiling trusses were finished with ornately carved wood corbels, and the balcony railing was to be a pierced carving railing.”

In the fall, after the Chapel’s renewal, you are welcome to visit, walk around and view the many visual treasures all around you. Stop and think about the deep meaning they hold and the people who made this beautiful holy space possible.

Mary Ann Kovach is the director of public relations at Notre Dame College.