Charlottesville Charm, #2

Our second pick for Charlottesville Charm is… The Chapel at The University of Virginia!

The history behind this beautiful icon is just one of the reasons we love having ceremonies at The Chapel!

Jen Fariello Photography

Jen Fariello Photography

Below is an excerpt from


Outside of Thomas Jefferson’s original Academical Village, the University Chapel might be the most beloved building on Grounds. Steeped in nostalgia, it has hosted weddings and memorial services, and has been a meeting space for academic departments as well as administrative and student groups.

Designed by Baltimore architect and University alumnus Charles E. Cassell, the Chapel opened in 1890 and has remained largely intact and unaltered for the last 110 years. Construction funds came largely from gifts collected by the local YMCA and the Ladies Chapel Aid Society.


Last year alone, more than 40,000 people used the Chapel for events, meetings and worship. Activities include the following:

  • More than 180 weddings per year
  • Morning prayer service twice weekly
  • Reunions and memorial services
  • School of Architecture classes
  • Department of Music organ rehearsals and choral concerts
  • Graduation services

The first structure on Grounds built exclusively for worship, the Chapel, with its Gothic Revival style, is in sharp contrast to the secular classicism of the nearby buildings on the Lawn. According to The Campus Guide: University of Virginia, by U.Va. architecture professor Richard Guy Wilson and Sara A. Butler (Arch ’96, Grad ’01), the Chapel was built in response to 19th-century accusations of heathenism that had been leveled at the University. An excerpt from professor Maximilian Schele de Vere’s address at the 1885 cornerstone-laying ceremony seems to attest to this sensitivity: “The pointed window, the flying buttress, the pointed steeple, all lead the eye upward, and with the eye the heart also is lifted up, aspiring to heaven.”

The Chapel is part of a long list of buildings—which includes Brooks Hall, Carr’s Hill, Varsity Hall and Fayerweather Hall, to name a few—that have played integral roles in the history of the University. “There’s always been a lot of attention paid to the Academical Village, and rightly so,” says David Neuman. “The real challenge is to expand people’s perceptions about the quality and quantity of other post-Jefferson buildings and landscapes here that are very significant historically. These buildings demand a lot of attention as well. It’s incredibly sustainable to preserve and reuse our buildings. We’re sustaining the culture and vitality of the institution, but we’re also sustaining its future because we’re not condemning older structures to the landfill.”

Some of that well-deserved attention is being paid to the Chapel. In 2006, the Chapel’s tower was stabilized, its drainage system was carefully redesigned and rebuilt, and the roofs of the tower and belfry were re-covered. Crews disassembled the top several rows of stone in the tower and meticulously reconstructed them. A 1,200-pound bronze bell, made by the McShane Bell Foundry in Maryland and donated by the Drama Club in 1897, was also conserved during the project.

There is more work to be done, however. Damage and wear to the Chapel’s exterior—including leakage in the stone masonry and around the windows—must be addressed quickly because they threaten the building’s interior. The pews, plaster and chancel platform are next on the restoration wish list, followed by a plan to refresh and clean the interior woodwork, masonry and walls. In addition, the Chapel’s organ needs to be replaced because it has reached the end of its life span. Replacing the cork flooring with a pine floor to match the original is a longer-term project.


To learn more about booking your ceremony at The Chapel, click HERE .