Henry Mansfield Cannon Memorial Chapel
Harry Mansfield Cannon Memorial Chapel was completed in the fall of 1929 – fifteen years after the University of Richmond’s campus was moved to its current location. The chapel is situated on a slight incline, overlooking the lake that separates the Westhampton and Richmond sides of campus. It was dedicated almost a century after the Virginia Legislature granted a charter for a Baptist Seminary in 1840. In 2013, the chapel was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register of Historic Places. Although its presence on campus is less central than in the twentieth century, the lovely structure represents a new inclusivity of faith on campus.
Backstory and Context
The Harry Mansfield
Cannon Memorial Chapel was completed in the fall of 1929 – fifteen
years after the University of Richmond’s campus was moved to its current
location. Judge William Moncore dedicated the chapel on October 23, 1929, on
behalf of Cannon’s sick wife, Lottie Southerland Cannon. Lottie Cannon donated the
chapel on behalf of her husband, who made his fortune in Richmond as a
tobacconist. She stated, “the University of Richmond would be here as long as
the city itself,” and for that reason, she “should place [her] memorial in the
University campus.”[i] The
president of Brown University, another Baptist University, Clarence Barbour,
gave the dedication address. According to the University’s newspaper, The Collegian, Barbour “declared
that only through the co-operation of practical
service with Christian idealism could we enjoy the ‘more abundant life.’”[ii] The chapel is situated on a slight incline, overlooking
the lake that separates the Westhampton and Richmond sides of campus.
The chapel was dedicated almost a century after the Virginia Legislature granted a charter for a Baptist Seminary in 1840. When the coordinate college system was established in 1914, Virginia Baptist Society’s funds supported the University. In the 1930s, the Honor Council passed a resolution to make it mandatory for students to attend chapel, and offenses would be considered a breach of the Honor Code. In a 1934 article, Richmond College’s Collegian attributed the resolution to the Honor Council’s “more aggressive policy that it plans to effect in the handling of its work at the College.”[iii] In 1936, the chapel received the funds for its first organ, a Hammond electric organ, from the donations of students and faculty.
The second organ in the chapel arrived in thirty-six crates in 1961 from Hamburg, Germany. It was the famous Rudolph von Beckerath’s third organ to reach the United States, and was valued at $35,000 at the time. The organ boasted 1,200 pipes of tin, lead, and wood, ranging from sixteen feet to a few inches in size. In 1976, the chapel underwent improvements yet again. Changes such as removing the felt from the interior made the building “acoustically alive.”[iv] After the renovation, the chapel had new tiled aisles, a restructured choir loft, a wood-paneled organ case, and a reshaped chancel.
The chapel has been a facet on campus for school traditions throughout its existence. During the twentieth century, religious activities were intertwined with Westhampton College students’ obligations. The students, all in white dresses, listened to speeches about honor and devotionals. The first Proclamation Night took place in 1929 in the chapel, and the chapel remains the setting for the Westhampton College Proclamation Night. Freshmen sign the honor pledge, write letters to themselves as seniors, and seniors return to the chapel to read their letters from their younger selves. The women wear white dresses, just as they have for decades. The Richmond College Investiture ceremony began in 1989, and also takes place in the Cannon Memorial Chapel. The tradition is “equivalent to Proclamation Night,” according to The Collegian. At the event, students hear about the history of Richmond College. At both events, the class is presented with the class flag and every student signs the Honor Pledge. The traditions serve to officially introduce and unify the first year classes of Richmond and Westhampton Colleges.
Throughout most of the University of Richmond’s history, the school’s Southern Baptist identity influenced students’ ability to express their own identities and to interact with others. Relationships between men and women were policed, and homosexuality was suppressed even more than heterosexual relationships. For LGBTQ students, the choice to be “out” on campus meant more than just social sanctions – they risked their enrollment and future career opportunities. The Richmond College Dean, Dr. Austin Grigg, gave a seminar on homosexuality in 1969. Grigg stated, “I never have met a mature homosexual who was happy.”[v] During the late 1960s, the University’s stance on social issues, as well as its financial insecurity, generated dissent among students. While students’ protests included dorm visitation rights, curfew, the alcohol policy, and federal funding, the overarching push from students against the administration was for secularity.
In June of 1969, Claiborne Robins’ $50 million donation to the University of Richmond set the University on its course to break off from the Baptist Church. A year later, in 1970, the Board of Trustees voted to change policies for alcohol on campus and dorm visitation, and they abolished weekly convocations at chapel. This movement ended in the University’s disaffiliation with the Baptist Church in 1999. On March 5, 1999, trustees updated the University’s non-discrimination policy to protect gay and lesbian students, faculty and staff. The policy clashed with the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s biblical teachings and values regarding homosexuality. As a response, the Baptist Association’s Executive Director Reginald McDonough stated, “I feel it is important for Virginia Baptists to maintain a presence and ministry among the university community… however, I feel it absolutely necessary that we find ways to express in clear terms the autonomous nature and mission of the two entities.”[vi] The division between the University and the Virginia Baptists allowed for the University to commence a more inclusive outlook regarding religion and students’ rights.
Today, the chapel still plays a role on campus. The Office of Chaplaincy, located next to the chapel, offers opportunities and places for prayer, and sponsors Pilgrimage Programs, a Multifaith Student Council and a variety of campus ministries. The Director of Spiritual Formation, Bryn Taylor, stated that the office’s aim is to “nurture the beliefs that the students have when they come here.” The chapel hosts special services, concerts, recitals, and is the setting for Proclamation Night and Investiture. The chapel is always in high demand for wedding services. In the past two years, there have been forty-five weddings in the chapel, and alumni, faculty and staff members made up 80% of those couples. In 2016, the chapel has had approximately thirteen memorial services, including full memorial services, ash scatterings, and inurnments in the Columbarium. The chapel serves as a place for services, weddings and memorials, and it continues to be of service to the University and to the public.
As time takes a toll on any building, the chapel had its most recent renovations to correct moisture damage and for general upkeep in 2013. More importantly, in 2013, the chapel was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register of Historic Places. Andrew McBride, the associative vice president for facilities, worked to get Cannon Memorial Chapel, North Court and Ryland Hall on the register to “protect and honor these historical buildings.”[vii] McBride explained to The Collegian that the chapel “was the center of where students at the two coordinate colleges could intermingle, since most activities were separate.”[viii] The Cannon Memorial Chapel has withstood the test of the University’s separation from the Baptist Church. Although its presence on campus is less central than in the twentieth century, the lovely structure represents a new inclusivity of faith on campus.
[i] “Henry M. Cannon Memorial Chapel.” University of Richmond Chaplaincy. Accessed November 8, 2016. http://chaplaincy.richmond.edu/chapel/.
[ii] “Dr. Clarence A. Barbour is Speak at Cannon Memorial Chapel Dedication.” The Collegian. November 25, 1929. Accessed November 8, 2016. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL19291025.2.13&srpos=7&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN-Henry+Mansfield+Cannon+Memorial+Chapel------#.
[iii] “Honor Council.” The Collegian. November 28, 1934. Accessed November 8, 2016. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL19341128.2.19&srpos=27&e=------193-en-20--21--txt-txIN-chapel-ARTICLE-----#.
[iv]“Henry M. Cannon Memorial Chapel.” University of Richmond Chaplaincy. Accessed November 8, 2016. http://chaplaincy.richmond.edu/chapel/.
[v] Carter, Katherine. “Dean Grigg Discusses Homosexuality.” University of Richmond Common Ground. Febuary 1969. Accessed November 8, 2016. http://commonground.richmond.edu/common/pdfs/Dean-Grigg-Discusses-Homosexuality.pdf.
[vi] “Va. Baptists to study ties with UR in light of new homosexuality policy.” Baptist Press. April 27, 1999. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://www.bpnews.net/1291/va-baptists-to-study-ties-with-ur-in-light-of-new-homosexuality-policy.
[vii] Burch, Marie. “Three campus buildings are historical landmarks.” The Collegian. January 31, 2013. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://collegian.richmond.edu/cgi-bin/richmond?a=d&d=COL20130131-01.2.14&srpos=14&e=------201-en-20--1--txt-txIN-chapel-ARTICLE-----#.