Amazing Chapel of St. Basil on University of St. Thomas
The amazing Chapel of St. Basil is an architectural marvel on the University of St. Thomas campus in Houston, Texas. Designed by the famous architect Philip Johnson in 1997, it capped off his amazing career in stupendous fashion.
The engineering firm of CJG based in Houston as well as Austin carried out the plans of Philip Johnson’s design. The black granite contrasts sharply with the white stucco of the building.
The cube, a plane and a semi-sphere were the main elements used in the creation of this striking chapel.
The black granite plane appears to slice right though the cube and the gold dome crowns the edifice.
The tent-like flap opening into the narthex or lobby area of the chapel is certainly distinctive. The largest bell pictured above represents St. Basil. The next largest bell represents his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa. The smallest bell represents their sister, St. Macrina the Younger who was a nun in the early Christian church.
Much symbolism is represented in the construction of the Chapel of St. Basil.
The wide grassy area with the classrooms facing out onto it is called the Academic Mall at the University of St. Thomas. It is a beautiful serene setting!
The Chapel of St. Basil is situated at the north end of the mall with the Doherty Library at the opposite end. The symbolic merging of faith and reason combined with all the interdisciplinary academic studies ranging in between the two anchoring buildings makes a subtle statement.
One of the amazing features regarding the architecture of the Chapel of St. Basil is that there is zero use of artificial light inside the structure. The only extra illumination in addition to cleverly designed windows and reflective surfaces plus the glass cross built into the west side of the building is from the use of candles.
The brightness inside of this chapel changes with the time of day and reflected effects of sunshine. At night the natural as well as artificial outdoor lighting combined with the candlelight is enough to keep the chapel illuminated.
The Stations of the Cross are amazing! They are concave and not convex as my photo above might suggest. They are literally carved and indented into the stucco wall! Yet from many angles they appear as though they are raised and curving out from the surface.
The cross above the altar is also recessed into the wall. The body of Christ was donated by the Menil family.
The pipe organ is a prominent feature on the wall to the right of the altar.
An icon of St. Basil is installed over where the Eucharist is kept inside a tabernacle. This is to the left of the altar and is the primary focus when first entering the chapel from the doors at the back.
The sculpture of Mary with the Christ child on her lap is titled “Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom.” This is a main feature on the east wall across from the glass cross and stations of the cross.
As you can tell the inside of this chapel is modern and beautiful in a minimalistic style.
The beauty continues on the outside. The photo above shows a portion of the Felicie Babin Gucymard Memorial Garden against a backdrop of the Chapel of St. Basil and other university buildings. The garden consists of a labyrinth, 3 fountains representing the Trinity and 4 corner benches. Again symbolism is at work here.
The Chartres Labyrinth was a gift from Ruth Westkaemper in honor of her class at UST in 1955. Those who wander the pattern of the 11 circles leading to the center are supposed to be prayerful and meditative as if on an actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Wedding photos were being taken on the day of our visit. I tried to capture my photos while staying out of the line of sight of the professional photographer with the young newlywed couple.
This beautiful prayer garden has a crushed gravel walkway around the main part of the outdoor oasis with the labyrinth and fountains. Colorful roses, crape myrtles and other trees and bushes add to the beauty of the plot.
Just across from the Felicie Babin Gucymard Memorial Garden is an area of benches surrounding a statue of Jesus Christ by sculptor Lorenzo Ghiglieri. It is called the Samfield Memorial Study Garden.
These are two great areas for University of St. Thomas students to be able to sit outdoors and pour over their books and/or take a break from their studies.
Viewing the Chapel of St. Basil from the street on the east side of the chapel shows another perspective of how the granite plane seems to slice through the cube shape. We had just spent some time walking around the Link-Lee Mansion on the University of St. Thomas campus.
Adjacent to this historic mansion is the Edward P. White Memorial Plaza. It was also designed by the architect Philip Johnson. If you click on the link above you will definitely see some similarities in that plaza and the chapel. The black granite and slanted cross are notably evident in both places.
The University of St. Thomas is a beauty in the heart of Houston. I hope you enjoyed this look at the beautiful chapel on campus.
Location where you can find the Chapel of St. Basil: