Upon being incorporated in 1897, Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute recognized the importance of spiritual formation for its students. Being established by the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Unites states of America, the school had a mission to prepare students who would study for Holy Orders of the Priesthood. Therefore, students, faculty and staff participated in regular Sunday morning worship in what was then Saint Augustine’s Church. The administration, faculty, and staff saw a need for an on campus chapel, and began the construction of Saint Augustine’s Chapel under the direction of Washington Hayes and the Reverend Henry B. Delany. The Reverend Henry B. Delany, who was later consecrated as Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, was the quarry master and mason for the project as the cornerstone was laid on July 15, 1895. The cornerstone was quarried from a grove near the spring located on the school’s property, and other building materials were obtained from the surrounding grounds. With the expertise and labor of many students at Saint Augustine’s Normal school, the chapel was completed and the first mass was held on Christmas Day, 1895. Students provided the labor for additional modifications on the chapel, including the North Transept, erected in 1904 by the Saint Augustine’s College Masonry Class.
The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, the Rt. Rev. J. B. Cheshire, consecrated the Saint Augustine’s Chapel on Tuesday, October 11, 1897. Many of the members who had worshiped at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, NC transferred their membership to Saint Augustine’s Chapel on the campus of Saint Augustine’s Normal School thus constituting the first communicants of the chapel. At this time Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church was renamed Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church.
The Historic Chapel hosts numerous memorials and distinctive features including memorial windows and the baptismal pool and font. The stained glass window in the nave depicting Christ and Simon of Cyrene was dedicated by Dr. Anna Cooper in memory of her husband, the Rev. George Cooper. Other unique features include the stone baptismal font and full immersion baptismal pool. These aspects of the Historic Chapel allow a baptismal candidate to partake of the sacrament of baptism with either of the options designated in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) which reads: Each candidate [for baptism] is presented to the celebrant, or to an assisting priest or deacon, who then immerses, or pours water upon, the candidate… [BCP, 307].
The Historic Chapel has been a place of worship, prayer and study throughout the years, and continues to be a place of respite for the university and greater Raleigh communities. As a place of worship grounded in the Anglican tradition, the Historic Chapel offers spiritual formation to individuals from a wide diversity of faiths among the student body. All are welcome at the worship within the chapel, whose goal is to be a place of safety for all people, as we listen, love and learn from each other, and prepare ourselves to be the loving presence of Christ in the world.
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