“If this chapel were somewhere in Europe, thousands of Americans would visit it each year. Never have we seen anything to equal it in this country—not even the famous mosaics of the Library of Congress at Washington impressed us so greatly.”
From a journalist in 1931
The Memorial Chapel is the centerpiece of the cemetery and a priceless architectural treasure—one of the most perfect examples of Byzantine mosaic art in the United States. When it was completed in 1910, it was the only building in America with an authentic mosaic interior. Through the years, visitors have been astonished to find such an outstanding architectural jewel in the heart of the Midwest. Many experts now believe that a work of such magnitude could not be recreated at any price today, as artisans possessing the necessary skills have passed into history.
Designed by prominent Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones and modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The chapel interior was created by New York designer Charles Lamb and many consider it the most perfect example of Byzantine mosaic art in the United States. In 1909, Lamb traveled to Rome to enlist the services of six highly accomplished mosaic artists who had just recently completed a project in the Vatican. The artists created more than 10 million mosaic pieces, called tesserae, from marble, colored stone, and glass fused with gold and silver. The artists then traveled to Minneapolis to assemble the work inside the chapel.
The chapel dome is 40 feet high and ringed with stained-glass windows that serve as a sundial telling the time of day and season. Four large mosaic figures representing Love, Hope, Faith and Memory are situated on the side walls below the dome. The figures were based on paintings by Lamb’s wife, Ella Condie Lamb, a noted portrait artist of her time.
In 1996, Lakewood embarked on a year-long project of renovating the chapel. Under the guidance of architect Jim W. Miller, AIA, new lighting and heating systems were installed, a new crematory was built in the lower level, and the front entrance was landscaped.
Part of Miller’s task was undoing alterations made over the century, such as attempts to darken the interior with yellow paper over the stained-glass windows and a brown carpet over the marble floor. To remain true to the original architect’s and designer’s intentions, Miller studied letters exchanged among Jones, Lamb and the Lakewood Cemetery Building Committee.
The 1996 renovation maintained the high standards set when the chapel was built nearly a century earlier. The best materials were used and highly skilled artists were chosen to do the work. Because of this consistent attention to excellence, the Lakewood Memorial Chapel will continue to be a beautiful sanctuary for the community through the 21st century and beyond.