A Closer Look Inside Phillips Chapel

This school year I started a new habit: going to chapel on Thursdays. I know, a mistake, right? Our chapel services are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Well, honestly, it did start out that way. I stumbled in on a Thursday morning thinking, “Where is everyone, it’s Friday?!” Once I realized my mistake, I sat alone in the vast silence and stillness of our beautiful Phillips Chapel.

Have you ever sat alone in this 600-seat, 9,500 square-foot place of worship? It is nothing short of awe-inspiring and majestic. The vast space overflows with sacredness that seems to soak into you. After that first day when I sat alone by mistake, I couldn’t help but return for more precious minutes alone in Phillips to start my day: to pray, be silent, or simply sit in awe of the view.

gpFkeewUQy8EFdXi1EbC0ZZJldazWWkI125YM47ofQYWhen filled with Canterbury’s 380 students (plus faculty, staff and parents) during a chapel service in which The Rev. Nathan Finnin’s sermons may or may not be referring to fart noises or getting slimed, “sacred space” may not always be the first words that pop into your head. Also,if we are being truthful, sometimes students file in and out of the chapel without a glance towards the beautiful stained glass windows that tell stories from the Bible and hold pieces of Canterbury’s history. Such is the reality of a busy school day.

Still, we all recognize what a special gift Phillips Chapel is to our community. Dedicated and consecrated on April 25, 2003, the chapel was designed to be the school’s keystone building and is the largest Episcopal place of worship in our region. I want to take you on an inside tour of this special place, so that everyone in Canterbury’s community might have the experience that I have had and come to more intimately know this beautiful chapel of ours.

A grand gift from the Phillips family

On June 1, 2001, The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina at the time, led a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate Canterbury’s new chapel — a gift from grandparents Kermit and Monica Phillips, who pledged a seven-figure gift to initiate the project. 

Gothic style, designed to be flexible

What the Phillips began, designers and builders brought to life. Phillips Chapel’s Gothic-style includes a cruciform design: the floor plan is in the shape of a cross. As you enter the nave, the ceiling reaches 60 feet high, the tower 90 feet. While its immense size would lead one to call the building a “cathedral,” an Episcopal place of worship is called a cathedral only if a bishop presides there. Following in the cathedral tradition, the building was always designed to be flexible in its use. This is one reason our seating features cathedral chairs rather than fixed pews. While the primary use of the chapel is worship, other uses include school special events, community concerts, lecture series, or religious celebrations such as weddings — and the upcoming Canterbury School auction, the Bayou Bash. 

Unique beauty in the details

After taking in the Gothic pointed arches and high towers, notice the vivid colors and beauty of the stained glass windows designed and crafted by renowned French artisans, De Pirey International. Several aspects of these windows are unique to Phillips Chapel. All of the windows depict stories and figures from the Old Testament (west side of the chapel) and the New Testament (east side). Over the altar is an image of Jesus surrounded by children, which is unique, as most churches depict the Last Supper or the Crucifixion above the altar. Also above the altar are pictures of three chapels: Phillips Chapel, the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., and Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England — to show Canterbury’s connection to the larger Christian and Anglican community. 

A major decision when planning the themes for each window was to reconcile the large top window with the smaller bottom window. The Windows Committee, which consisted of Head of School Chip Bristol, The Reverend Fred Warnecke, Jr. and The Reverend Wendy Billingsley, determined the big windows would be the “macro,” the theme of the bible, and the little window would represent the “micro,” or the illustrations of the larger theme above. The concept of windows above and below echoing each other is a special aspect of Phillips Chapel.

Also unique to Phillips’ windows is the that one of our Canterbury art teachers, Molly Stouten, had a hand in their fabrication. Molly was able to travel to France and apprentice under the De Pirey artisans. In fact, she worked alongside artists in the French studio in July 2004 to help create the tower windows donated by the Berry family.  Her days included painting, etching, cutting glass, glazing and assembling, and each step was done on a window that would be installed in Phillips Chapel.

Peering into Canterbury stories

A closer look into each window tells us a bit about Canterbury’s donors. Once the theme for each window was chosen and designed, donors were invited to personalize each window. Examples drawn into the designs include family dogs, favorite flowers, the Canterbury Cougar mascot, symbols of favorite hobbies, or drawings of family members.  In one window, a mother and father chose to add seven apples to represent their son’s seven consecutive years of perfect attendance at Canterbury. Another personalization is in the Last Supper window, where you will see a small child depicted on the left. This child is Rebecca Zopatti. Her mother, Kathy Zopatti, was Canterbury’s first lower school director.  Rebecca died before she was a year old, but her spirit lives on in this window, in her memorial garden in front of Fry Hall, and in heaven.

The best view

Perhaps the best view of Phillips Chapel is from the perspective of standing outside looking in, as you gaze up above the main entrance double doors at the well known Rose Window. You see this symbol around campus, on Canterbury sweatshirts and when logging onto our website. Perhaps you think of of it when you hum the Byrds’ famous song: To Everything (Turn! Turn!Turn!) There is a Season.(Turn! Turn!Turn!)  Most importantly, the theme of the Rose window comes from Ecclesiastes, chapter three, and represents the circle of life

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Pausing to acknowledge the reverence and glory of the stained glass windows in Phillips Chapel is a form of worship itself.

The keystone building

Phillips Chapel was designed to be the keystone building of the Canterbury campus and is, indeed, the first building to capture attention when driving up to the campus. Often, I wonder about people’s first impressions of the chapel, so I asked our own Fr. Finnin. His reply:

“I was driving up N. Church Street to meet Burns Jones for the first time, and when I crossed Pisgah Church, I remember seeing the top of the chapel and thinking, ‘Surely that’s not it!’  It’s not what comes to mind when you think of a K-8 day school chapel. I was blown away not only by its beauty, but by what it represented: faith was literally and figuratively at the heart/center of the school.”

The 2016 Canterbury School Bayou Bash auction will be partly held in Phillips Chapel this year on Feb. 26th. While the announcement that the silent auction is to be held in the chapel may have surprised some at first, Father Finnin addressed concerns in a letter you may access here. We hope our Canterbury community will enthusiastically show support for the school by attending this year’s auction, and at the same time take advantage of the opportunity to experience the awe-inspiring glory of Phillips Chapel in a new way.

By Katie Huhu

Katie Hu is the parent of Brady (5th-Vogel), Maggie (3nd-McCollum) and Mason (PreK-Copeland). Her favorite part of Canterbury is the chapel and the teachers. She loves a quiet walk in the woods, yoga, and a tall glass of kale afterwards. 


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