Skip to navigation

History of the Chapel

History of the ChapelThe Fisk Memorial Chapel, with a seating capacity of approximately eight hundred, was designed by William B. Bigelow of New York City and completed in 1892. General Clinton B. Fisk, a founder of the University, left funds for construction to the University in the form of railroad stock. The interior has a high domed ceiling exposing the appealing support structures. A balcony extends on three sides. The Chapel houses an extraordinary 40 rank Holtkamp pipe organ, which is one of the finest examples in the United States of the work of organ-builder, Walter Holtkamp Sr. The organ has an estimated value of over $2.5 million. It was built especially for the University to be housed in the Chapel. Over the entrance doors is the stirring legend: “Arise shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”

The Chapel is the primary assembly area on campus and is rich in intellectual and cultural traditions. Since its construction, it has served as the site for numerous public functions sponsored by the University, including concerts, The Spring Arts Festival, academic convocations, lectures, conferences and graduation exercises. Heads of foreign countries have been received and honored on its platform, and television and movie productions have been staged in the Chapel. Outstanding international concert artists, musical organizations, drama and dance performances, lecturers, ministers and political figures have also appeared in the Chapel. Included among those who have visited the Chapel, given addresses, performed for students and community members are The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, W. C. Handy, Jesse Jackson, Nat King Cole, Eubie Black, Merle Haggard, Robert Altman, John Hope Franklin and Bell Hooks. The Chapel is the home performance site for the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers.

In 1992, the Chapel was restored under the direction of the U. S. Park Service, through an appropriation from the U. S. Congress. A rededication ceremony was held in August 1992, which also marked the 100th anniversary of the building, at which occasion a litany was written by Dr. L. M. Collins. Special awards by The Victorian Society in America, the Tennessee Historical Commission and the American Institution of Architects – Tennessee, have recognized the historic restoration of the building. Internationally renowned Harlem Renaissance authors Langston Hughes (standing) and Arna Bontemps read poetry in the Fisk Memorial Chapel. The original painting of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which is now displayed in Jubilee Hall, rests above the description Praise Him in Song.”