Located on the main quad of Stanford University, its Memorial Church was built at the bequest of Jane Stanford as a memorial to her late husband, Leland, in 1903. Designed by Charles Coolidge, who was greatly influenced by Henry Hobson Richardson, the church is built in the Romanesque style with Venetian and Byzantine influences. It was severely damaged in the 1906 earthquake and largely rebuilt afterward and damaged again during the 1989 earthquake. It is perhaps best known for its large, numerous and decorative mosaics and stained-glass windows. It is open to the public every day except Saturdays and offers guided tours every Friday.
University was founded in 1885 as a memorial to Leland Stanford Jr., son of
Jane and Leland Sr., who died the previous year at the age of 15. The Stanford’s donated approximately $40
million to the university and, when Leland Sr. died in 1893, his wife sought to
create an appropriate memorial on the university’s campus for her late husband. The result was Stanford Memorial Church. Jane Stanford sought to “…secure the
religious needs of the university in a non-sectarian manner.” And while the cruciform design of and
religious symbolism within the church certainly focuses on Christianity, it was
and still is a non-denominational church.
Designs for the
church were drawn up by Charles Coolidge in 1898, ground was broken in 1899 and
the church was dedicated in 1903. The Stanfords
had previously traveled extensively throughout Europe and were greatly influenced
by the city of canals, Venice, Italy.
As a result, Jane requested that the church reflect those
influences. She contracted with Venetian
artists, Maurizio Camerino and Antonio Paoleti, to design the majestic mosaics
that grace both the church’s interior and exterior and employed J. & R.
Lamb of New York City to create its numerous stained glass windows.
the original church was almost completely destroyed by the Great San Francisco
Earthquake of 1906. Its 80-foot clock
tower fell in on the chancel roof destroying much within, most of its walls
cracked, and the front façade, with its beautiful mosaic, collapsed. Thankfully, Jane Stanford, who died in 1905,
did not witness the near destruction of the church. In 1908, reconstruction efforts began on the
church, with much of the original sandstone being reused as were the intact
stained-glass windows. The church’s
crossing was rebuilt with a more stable tiled hipped roof with a large oculus
to permit the infusion of natural light.
Camerino restored the mosaics and the church was fully restored by
1917. However, it was decided not to
replace the clock tower and the original clock now resides in the Stanford
cruciform structure is 190 feet long and 150 feet wide with an arcade, narthex
entrance, nave with clerestory above, and a massive crossing with semicircular
Romanesque arches. The large exterior mosaic
by Paoletti was recreated and was the largest in the country at that time at 80
feet x 30 feet It contains 47 figures
and is a veneration of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. The interior is decorated with more stunning
mosaics, paintings, statuary and massive chandeliers that were installed in
1915. Its 20 large stained-glass windows
took three years to create and 8 months to install and depict the life of
Christ, while the smaller windows feature Biblical figures such as Ruth,
Joshua, Abraham and Judith among many others.
The church survived the 1989 earthquake with only moderate damage and
was closed for structural repairs until 1992.