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Birks Heritage Chapel

A view of the Birks Heritage Chapel

The two storey, galleried chapel seats about 150. It originally reflected the interdenominational nature of the original colleges, and the ecumenical intention of Divinity Hall, now the Birks Building, home of the Faculty of Religious Studies. Its more recent function reflects the pluralism of the campus, the variety of faiths within the Faculty of Religious Studies and McGill itself. Services are held every Tuesday at 12 noon by and for staff and students of the faculty. Other occasions include memorial services for members of the academic community, special events to mark the opening and ending of term, etc. A major use is for service of marriage.

A carved wood tracery screen separates the narthex from the nave and supports the gallery which is entered from the third floor. The ceiling is groined wood vaulting, and the floors are stone slabs, with coloured marble and terrazzo in the chancel. The walls are of acoustic plaster, the woodwork straight-grained white oak, waxed. The clerestory windows depict the crests of British and Canadian universities: on the right side, facing the altar, Dublin, St. Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, London, Cambridge, Oxford; on the left, Dalhousie, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Queen's, Toronto, McGill. Above the altar rises a large and beautiful stained-glass window depicting the Ascension. The chapel windows were designed by C.W. Kelsey.

The hangings in the chancel area were designed by the internationally known artist Normal Laliberté and installed in the chapel in 1979. The three cloth reredos panels display the central Christian symbols of the cross and the dove. Five painted wooden panels surround the altar in Laliberté's glowing colours and Indian motif. At centre front is the Christ, with his Chi Rho symbol, the first two letters of the Greek word christos; to the left, the symbols of the evangelists John and Matthew, an eagle and a man; and to the right, the symbols of Luke and Mark, an ox and a lion. On the left side of the altar table is a painting of the Jesse Tree, and on the right, Adama and Eve on either side of the tree of knowledge.

Also to be noted among the chapel's furnishings are, in the right-hand aisle facing the altar, a memorial Roll of Honour, a framed text from Normal Laliberté expressing his inspiration in the altar designs, and an icon of St. Paul on the Areopagus presented in 1949 by the late Arch-bishop Damaskinos of Athens in recognition of assistance rendered by Canadians during the period following the Second World War. On the central column on the left-hand side is a stone of marble from St. Columba's Isle of Iona, Scotland. On the south wall is displayed a Torah scroll presented by Rabbi H.J. Stern and Temple Emanu-El Congregation, and a memorial tablet to F. Cyril James, 1903–1973, and Principal 1940–1962. The Casavant organ was given as a memorial to Charles Curd by his family. Mr Gurd was Chairman of the Congregational College, 1911–1925.