Rockefeller Chapel renovation to add beauty, functionality to historic landmark

Project to restore stained-glass windows, building exterior

Efforts are underway to preserve some of the historic and ornate stained-glass windows and unique features of the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, helping to safeguard the 96-year-old building’s architectural legacy for the future.

The magnificent 43-foot south-facing window, with its four vertical panels of fire-glazed glass arranged in distinctive patterns and pastel shades, is now in the process of restoration. In addition, six decorative windows from the east and west openings of the Gothic-style chapel are in the process of removal and transport to Wisconsin for repair.

In a delicate process, artisans will document the window design with rubbings, then submerge the windows in water for the removal of the support elements and lead cames. Broken pieces will be replaced and intact pieces will be cleaned and returned to their original location — refurbished and reattached with new, stronger metalwork.

Outside, specialty masons are grinding and pointing joints and restoring sections of decorative limestone on the exterior facades. Free-standing sculptures depicting archangels, saints, and philosophers and shields carrying the coats of arms of nine U.S. universities will be renewed.

The Chapel will remain open throughout the project for the public and tourists, as the footprint for seating is unimpeded by the construction. During the period of exterior scaffolding, some events like summer weddings may be funneled to Bond Chapel.

A gift for historic preservation

This phase of work, expected to continue through summer 2025, was made possible in part by a grant of $500,000 awarded to the University of Chicago from the Driehaus Foundation of Chicago in 2023 for restoration of the grand south window.

“This commitment from The Driehaus Foundation, one of the leading preservation grant makers in the country, confirms the University is taking the right approach to this complex project,” said Alicia Berg, assistant vice president of Campus Planning + Sustainability. “We are pleased to be stewarding one of our most important historic buildings for a strong future.”

Preservation on the southern half of the Chapel represents a major milestone in an effort that first began in 2007 to repair and restore the exterior masonry facades and iconic stained-glass windows of the north end of the Chapel and Carillon Tower. Completion of the work this year was made a priority due to the condition of the facade and windows to the south.

Capital projects manager Patrick Lummen, AM’11, is overseeing the restoration process. He said, “The project is an example of the University’s targeted effort to maintain and celebrate the architectural and cultural legacy of the campus while aligning that legacy with the University’s sustainability and universal access goals.”

The timing for the project is ideal for the Chapel, which serves as an important University ceremonial and spiritual center, hosting convocations, recitals and orientations. Rockefeller will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2028.

“The restoration will ensure that the Chapel continues on as a beautiful anchor for the University of Chicago as well as for nearby residents for generations to come. It will enhance the beauty and functionality of the architectural centerpiece of the University,” said Matthew Dean, AB’00, MLA’23, director of the University Chapels.