Durham County

Duke Chapel reopens after $19.2 million renovation

Duke Chapel reopens after year-long renovation

Video: One year after closing for the first major renovation since 1932, the Durham landmark draws hundreds of spectators at its reopening.
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Video: One year after closing for the first major renovation since 1932, the Durham landmark draws hundreds of spectators at its reopening.

For Marcelle Ross, Duke University Chapel has always been a refuge.

“I’ve loved the place since I was a little girl,” said Ross, 60, of North Myrtle Beach.

When she was a student at Duke, it was a refuge from the challenges she faced as a student. Today, it’s a refuge from a complicated world.

“I think just (because of) the concerns that we face in our personal lives and a lot of the political turmoil that is going on now,” said Ross followed a path set by her mother and maternal grandparents in attending Duke. “Just to be able to go into a place of beauty where the life of Christ is glorified to me is very calming.”

Ross and her husband were among the dozens standing in the shadow of the 210-foot Duke Chapel bell tower Wednesday morning waiting to enter and take in the $19.2 million renovation. The chapel, which gets about 200,000 visitors annually, was closed for a year for its first major renovation since it was completed in 1932. It was designed by African-American architect Julian Abele, who also designed much of the Duke campus.

Current students, hospital visitors, musicians and community members also awaited to get a peek at the renovated chapel. They came to hear the massive and historic organs, they said, to see the new shine on the Gothic-style building and to find the peace that Ross described.

“Every time I walk in, I feel God is above me,” said Kay Greene, who along with her husband, traveled from Springville, Va., for the re-opening.

Just after 10 a.m., the crowd entered. Some walked the aisle, inspecting the refinished pews, treated stained glass windows, and restored limestone ribs that span the ceiling.

“I think it is glorious,” Greene said. “ I see a lot of clean stone, and everything looks so shiny and refreshing.”

“It sparkles,” said Pepper Fluke, 86, of Durham.

Others, like Dalia Patino-Echeverri, kneeled and prayed.

“I find this place beautiful, and it gives me an opportunity to feel closer to God,” said Patino-Echeverri, 41, a professor in Nicholas School of the Environment who gave thanks for her job, her family and students.

Beyond the sites were the sounds of the chapel’s massive pipe organs.

“It is the most glorious sound that you will ever hear,” Fluke said.

The chapel has three of the finest organs in the country under one roof, said Christopher Jacobson, the chapel organist since July 2014.

During the renovation, Jacobson played a rented electronic organ during Sunday morning services at Page Auditorium.

Playing the pipe organs in the chapel again, he said, was thrilling.

“It’s like having your BMW in the shop for a while getting it worked on,” he said. “It’s spectacular when you have been driving a sort of beat- up Chevy truck.”

John Santoianni, curator of organs and harpsichords, remained in his workshop in the chapel during the restoration.

He saw a lot of organized chaos, he said, as they removed the pews and covered the floors with padding and plywood.

“And then scaffolding went up, everywhere, all the way up to the vault,” he said. “It was like a forest of scaffolding.”

Workers brought in the new HVAC system in parts small enough to go through the doors and then reassembled it.

The Connecticut-based Foley-Baker, Inc. covered the organs’ varying pipes with baggies, garbage bags and tents to protect them from dust and debris. When the renovation was over, it took 40 hours to tune the Aeolian organ, which has 6,600 pipes, and 50 hours to tune the Flentrop, which has 5,000 pipes.

Wednesday’s events include guided tours, a midday prayer with Holy Communion, organ demonstrations and an hour of silence for mindful meditation. It concluded with a planned prayer for peace as the doors closed at 10 p.m.

Ross said she walked away with a new appreciation for the chapel.

“I was just totally amazed by the amount of talent and time and effort it took to build it originally, as well as to restore it,” she said. “That, to me, was beyond comprehension.”

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

Upcoming events

To learn more about the Duke University Chapel and upcoming events, go to https://chapel.duke.edu/