The University Chapel was built in the 1920s, but its history actually begins with the birth of the university itself. At its founding in 1746, Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey) was first located in the parsonage of the Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth; when the College moved to Princeton, New Jersey in 1756, the chapel was located in Nassau Hall. In 1847 a separate building was constructed on the site of East Pyne Hall, but in only a few decades enrollment at Princeton grew so much that a larger house of worship was needed–this was the famous Marquand Chapel, built in 1881. Tragically, a devastating fire destroyed the Marquand Chapel in 1920.
In response, the University’s president and trustees embarked on the construction of the current University Chapel. It was designed in an architectural style based on the fourteenth century English Gothic. Completed in 1928, at a cost of more than two million dollars, this imposing college chapel, capable of seating two thousand, was second in size only to the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge University. The style conformed with the tudor Gothic that had been adopted for Blair Hall in 1897 as well as other buildings that were constructed during the succeeding several decades.
Today the chapel continues to serve as the hub of spiritual and religious life at Princeton, but does so in a manner that recognizes its role in an increasingly multicultural and multi-faith society. In addition to Protestant Christian and Catholic services, the chapel hosts several ceremonial, non-denominational events that the University holds here each year. It is in the Chapel that the University comes together as a community. This is true at Opening Exercises, Baccalaureate, and annual memorial services for alumni and staff of the University. It has also been a bridge between town and gown, and between the several academic communities of Princeton.
As a multi-faith sacred space, the Chapel has also hosted a number of other spiritual events, ranging from a teaching by Buddhist monks to a celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. In addition, in the last five years there have been a number of Hindu wedding ceremonies held in the Chapel as well.
For more information about this beautiful space, please visit the Princeton University Chapel website.