The striking appearance of the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, attracted some controversy when it was first completed in 1963, but is now considered one of the most beautiful examples of modern American architecture.
History of the Cadet Chapel
The Cadet Chapel was dedicated on September 22, 1963. The principal architect of the chapel was Walter A. Netsch, Jr. of Chicago and the construction was overseen by Robert E. McKee, Inc. of New Mexico.
The shell of the chapel and surrounding grounds cost $3.5 million; decorations and fittings of the interior were donated by various individuals and organizations. A special Easter offering was taken at Air Force bases around the world in 1959 to help fund completion of the interior.
The stated mission of the Air Force Chaplain and the Cadet Chapel is "to inspire men and women to become leaders of character by providing spiritual care and facilitating the free exercise of religion."
What to See at the Cadet Chapel
The striking exterior of the Cadet Chapel, made of steel, aluminum and glass, has 17 pointy spires resembling fighter jets soaring up to the sky.
Inside, the Cadet Chapel has two main levels and a smaller basement level, with rooms for each of the three major religions represented in the Air Force plus multi-faith rooms for cadets of other faiths.
There is a 1,200-seat Protestant chapel, a 500-seat Catholic chapel and 100-seat Jewish chapel, plus two multi-faith rooms devoid of religious symbolism. Each chapel has a separate entrance and services can be carried out simultaneously without interfering with one another.
The Protestant Chapel, occupying the upper level, has a 99-foot-high pinnacled ceiling and stained glass windows between the tetrahedrons of the walls. The window colors graduate from dark to light, representing coming from darkness into the light of God. The floor is gray-white terrazzo.
Behind the altar is a multi-colored, crescent-shaped reredos (14x45 feet) representing the welcoming arms of God. Semi-precious stones from Colorado and pietra santa marble from Italy cover its 1,260 square-foot area.
The altar is made of a sleek marble slab 15 feet long, formed in the shape of ship symbolizing the church. Suspended above is a great aluminum cross, measuring 46' 2" high by 12' wide and weighing 1,200 pounds. Around the curved steps of the altar are 12 kneelers done in needle-point by officers wives' clubs throughout the Air Force, each one with a different design of Christian symbols as they have appeared throughout history.
The pews are of American walnut and African mahogany, carved so the end of each pew resembles a World War I airplane propeller. The backs of the pews are capped by a strip of aluminum similar to the leading edge of a fighter aircraft wing. Perched high above the narthex is a large classical pipe organ with 4,334 pipes, the tallest pipe stretching 32 feet high.
The Catholic Chapel, occupying part of the main level, has side walls of amber glass panels accentuated by strip windows of multi-colored cast glass. The nave is 55 by 95 feet in size.
The altar was a gift from the late Francis Cardinal Spellman, who dedicated the Cadet Chapel on September 22, 1963. It is made of Italian white marble mounted on a marble cone-shaped pedestal and surmounted by a six-foot sculptured nickel-silver crucifix. The reredos behind the altar is an abstract mosaic of varying shades of blue, turquoise, rose and gray tesserae, superimposed with 10-foot tall marble figures of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel. Above is a marble dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit.
Along the side walls are the 14 Stations of the Cross, carved by the late Lumen Martin Winter from four-inch thick slabs of Carrera marble with recessed backgrounds of multi-colored mosaic. The pews, seating 500 people, are made of American walnut trimmed in satin finished stainless steel. The organ has 1,950 pipes.
Other rooms include a Reconciliation Room at the rear of the nave, a Blessed Sacrament Room, and a baptistry. The walls of the baptistry are composed of Italian marble and Colorado quartz crystals embedded with multi-colored semi-precious stones from the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
The synagogue or Jewish Chapel, also on the main level, seats 100 people in individual chairs. The chapel is shaped like a circle within a square, representing the global mission of the Air Force and the everlasting presence of God. The surrounding foyer is paved with 1,631 pieces of Jerusalem stone donated by the Israeli Defense Forces.
The circular walls of the synagogue are panels of translucent glass separated by stanchions of Israeli cypress. The paintings (1985-86) are by Shlomo Katz and are are divided into three groups: brotherhood, flight (in honor of the Air Force) and justice.
As in all synagogues, the focal point is the Holy Ark, which holds the Scrolls of the Torah. The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) hangs to the right of the Ark. In the foyer of the chapel is a display cabinet with a Torah Scroll that was saved from the Nazis during World War II. It was found in Poland in 1989 in an abandoned warehouse and donated to the Jewish Chapel in April 1990. This "Holocaust Torah" is dedicated to the memory of all of those who fought against the Nazis.
On the bottom level are the All-Faiths Rooms, designated as worship areas for cadets of other religious groups. They are left void of religious symbolism so that they may be used by a variety of faiths, but faith-specific fittings are available for use during services.
Quick Facts on the Cadet Chapel
|Names:||Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel · Cadet Chapel|
|Categories:||chapels; academic chapels|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||39.008446° N, 104.890230° W|
|Address:||U.S. Air Force Academy|
|Email:||firstname.lastname@example.org (Director of Cadet Chapel Public Relations)|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 12-5|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Cadet Chapel|
Map of the Cadet Chapel, United States
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Cadet Chapel. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.