Everyone has probably seen exterior photos of the gothic-style West Point Cadet Chapel, which sits on a hill overlooking the prestigious Military Academy campus.
I had the opportunity to see the inside of the Chapel during a tour and found that, just like the exterior, it projects both beauty and strength.
From the stunningly detailed stained glass windows to the one-of-a-kind organ, every element speaks volumes about the chapel’s rich history and the craftsmanship involved in its creation.
So without further ado, let’s go inside the West Point Cadet Chapel!
A Historical And Architectural Marvel
The architectural design of the West Point Cadet Chapel is Gothic Revival, a style that was popular in 1903 when the campus started a complete renovation of buildings.
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As you can see, the building is a massive structure, which is made of native granite and looks somewhat like a Medieval fortress.
The Cadet Chapel’s unique design is intentional. The neo-Gothic style harmonizes with West Point’s existing buildings and surrounding hills, and the military theme emphasizes its mission of training officers for combat.
The overall design pays homage to the massive Gothic cathedrals of the 12th century, but as a tribute to West Point, the architect includes many martial embellishments, such as battlements, parapets, battle flags, and castellated towers.
Above the main entry of the West Point Cadet Chapel is a two-handed sword embedded in the cross, symbolizing the warrior’s duty to fight evil and protect all that is just before the Lord (Psalms 149:6-9).
Cadet Chapel Stained Glass Windows
Among the most impressive features of the chapel are its stained-glass windows that reflect the Biblical heritage of Christianity and the early church.
The 50-foot-high great Sanctuary Window is the first thing a visitor sees on entering the chapel, and it is extraordinary!
This window in front of the pews was the first to be installed (1910), and is inscribed with the motto of the Academy, “Duty, Honor, Country.”
The Nave windows in the Cadet Chapel at West Point depict the history of the Christian faith, including parables, miracle and teachings of Christ, as well as saints and martyrs of the early church.
The ground floor windows display episodes in the life of Jesus from the Gospels.
Another example of the intricate scenes depicted on the windows includes the armies of heaven triumphing over Satan and his four horsemen. That particular window is dedicated to the graduates of West Point who perished in World War I.
An amazing fact is that the Willet Studio charged West Point just $300 for the first window in 1915 and the same amount for each window thereafter, including the final one in 1976.
The 172 windows along each side were donated by, or in honor of, the various graduating classes.
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West Point Cadet Chapel Facts
To give you an idea of the scope of the chapel, the interior of the main floor is 56 feet high and 35 feet wide. The Nave measures 210 feet from the front door to the sanctuary.
The chapel’s design follows the basic “long hallway” form of ancient basilicas, with transepts added to form the shape of a cross. The view down the aisle is captivating in its grandeur and obvious devotion to all things related to God and country.
Projecting from the walls on either side of the nave are rows of battle flags dating to the early 19th century.
The flags represent the nation’s involvement in the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the conflict in the Philippines.
All the intricate ironwork inside the Chapel was hand forged by master blacksmiths loaned to the project by the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Near the entrance, the floor is made up of plain concrete slabs, but closer to the sanctuary it becomes more ornate and elaborate, with handmade terra-cotta tiles and intricately carved wooden trim.
The first pew features silver plates engraved with the signatures of previous Superintendents, including Generals MacArthur, Taylor, and Westmoreland.
The Pews In The Cadet Chapel
The pews are simple in design and uniform in their appearance. As noted, even the hymnals and Bibles are always “dress right, dress.”
The candle in the left aisle pew is reserved in honor of our nation’s POW and MIA service members who have not returned.
The front pew on the right side is reserved for the Superintendent of the Academy.
Building The Cadet Chapel West Point
I learned during the tour that work on the chapel began in 1908.
Although it was originally slated to be built on Trophy Point, they decided on a spot higher on the hill, where it would tower over all of West Point’s other structures.
The view from the Chapel of the river and the Hudson Highlands is breathtaking.
The native granite used to build the Cadet Chapel was quarried on site to better blend the buildings with their surroundings.
The laborers hired to work on the chapel were mainly foreign born, and were promised U.S. citizenship if they finished the building in five years.
When they saw that hauling granite from the quarry up to the site by mule was taking too long, they devised a steel scaffolding system that enabled them to haul up the heavy stone by hand.
They finished the work on the chapel in 1910, just two and a half years from when they started!
The Cadet Chapel Organ
In 1911 General Hugh L. Scott, the superintendent of West Point Academy, oversaw the installation of the chapel’s organ.
Built and installed by the M. P. Moller Pipe Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, the original organ boasted 2,406 all-wind pipes.
The Chapel organ now features more than 23,500 pipes! The organ’s horseshoe-style console, with four keyboards and 874 stops, is said to be the largest all-pipe organ in a house of worship in the world.
Cadet Chapel Bell Tower
The Transept is the section across the Nave which creates the cross-shaped form of the Medieval cathedral. Upon the four massive pillars rest the bell tower rising 145 feet above the ground.
Twelve bells hang inside that weigh more than 14,000 pounds. They were a gift in 1919 and were refurbished in 2012.
They can still be heard today as cadet chimers continue the long tradition of playing the bells using a manual console.
Beneath The Cadet Chapel
A part of the Cadet Chapel that I didn’t get to see is the lower level, which pays homage to the castles and cathedrals of an earlier time.
The basement includes a small dungeon, which was reportedly never used for punishment. There is also a crypt with an iron-strapped door that is clad in hammered copper that is painted black.
The door features three cut-out designs: a broken hourglass, a shattered sword, and a cross.
Inside the crypt is an arched temple, dubbed St. Martin’s Chapel, after St. Martin of Tours, the fourth–century soldier and militant saint.
Like creepy spaces? Try the New York Catacombs by Candlelight!
Visiting The Cadet Chapel At West Point
The Cadet Chapel is included in West Point Tours and is also open daily from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
If you want to visit the Chapel on your own, you would have to go through a security check to enter the West Point campus by stopping by the West Point Visitor Center.
Pro Tip: Plan to spend at least 45 minutes to get your pass, depending on how crowded the security line is.
Services are conducted for Protestant members of the Corps of Cadets, the faculty and the public. They are held at 10:30 a.m. every Sunday.
If you’re planning a visit West Point, I recommend staying at The Thayer Hotel adjacent to the Military Academy campus.
West Point Cadet Chapel Weddings
The tour guide told us that weddings at the Cadet Chapel are very popular, especially on the day of graduation and the days following, since students at the Academy cannot be married.
The long walk up the aisle looks extremely intimidating to me, but would make for great photos. There is a side door about halfway up the aisle, that the guide jokingly called the “getaway door” if someone changes their mind.
To be married at the Cadet Chapel, either the bride or the groom must be Academy graduates, or one of them must be active duty stationed at West Point, or dependents of active duty personnel stationed at West Point.
One thing that sets military weddings apart is the Arch of Sabers Ceremony. The salute is conducted outdoors immediately following the wedding ceremony, welcoming the bride and groom as a couple into the Army
Things To Do In The Hudson River Valley
Private Helicopter Tour (Great for Fall Foliage)
Treat yourself to a few nights at the Mohonk Mountain House.
Book A Room: The Thayer Hotel At West Point