Image from SpringGrove.org
Have you ever been to a wedding in a cemetery? Well, that is a fairly normal occurrence at the Spring Grove Cemetery. Why? Because the Norman Chapel is a magnificent piece of architecture set in the picturesque beauty of a cemetery meant to look like a park.
Last Throwback Thursday I talked about the Spring Grove Cemetery where my main character’s grandfather is interned. This week I want to explore the gorgeous Norman Chapel.
The History & Design
The magnificent Romanesque-style chapel was designed by famous Cincinnatian architect, Samuel Hannaford, in 1879. The chapel itself was constructed in 1880 and the first service, a funeral, was held on February 7, 1881.
The exterior is made of rough-hewn limestone and has areas of intricately carved stonework. Beautiful archways and a covered drive are something to be admired. If you do a search of “Wedding Photos at Norman Chapel”, you will find several pictures where the arches are clearly seen. As of this moment, I have not made it back to the Spring Grove Cemetery for pictures, and I do not have permission to share the ones I have saved for research purposes.
The interior of Norman Chapel is breath-taking.
Pictures and Collage created by SpringGrove.org.
The arches of the exterior are mirrored on the interior. Carved wooden beams support the chapel’s ceiling and marble graces the floor. The focal point is a magnificent stained glass window at the front of the sanctuary that depicts the Ascension of Christ, although at the time of my story the stained glass had not yet arrived from Europe.
Black Belgium marble floor paves the chapel floor and Bedford limestone is prominent in the vestibule. There are bronze doors on each side of the altar with bas-relief panels of Biblical scenes of the resurrection of Lazarus and of Jesus Christ, the Ascension, the revival of the widow’s son and Jabirus’ daughter, and the healing of the paralytic man.
The stained glass window shows not only the Ascension of Christ but also Jesus healing the paralytic man. The window is inscribed with Luke 51:24, “And it came to pass while He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.”
The chapel is in use today, although more for weddings than funerals now. Its beauty is lost to the dead, and often to the grieving as well. Norman Chapel is definitely one better suited for the rose colored lens of new love, eager to soak in every detail of the day.
So if you are looking for a unique venue you may want to consider the Norman Chapel. Just be aware, your guest list may be well over several thousand… but no worries, most of them are permanent residents.
Spring Grove Cemetery is one of Cincinnati’s beautiful attractions, which has drawn visitors for over 150 years. The inciting incident of my current work in progress is the death of the heroine’s grandfather, and what better location for his funeral and burial than this park like cemetery.
Should you ever get the chance to come to Cincinnati, I highly recommend walking through this beautiful cemetery. In fact it is so beautiful, wedding are often held at the Norman Chapel, which will be discussed in next week’s Throwback Thursday.
The Birth of a Cemetery
Cholera epidemics swept through Cicinnati throughout the 1830s and 1840s, filling small church cemeteries to the brim. Little comfort could be found in these places of crowded interment for the bereaved families and leaders of the Cincinnati community voiced their concerns.
Members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society formed a cemetery association in 1844 and endeavored to find a suitable location for a cemetery they envisioned as being a picturesque park undisturbed by expansion.
They sought to acquire a large enough area to support funerals for an indefinite future, along with the embellishments of shrubbery, flowers, trees, walks, and rural ornaments. It was so important to them that they create not just a a funeral location, but also an area of great beauty, respite, and leisure, members of the cemetery association traveled the United States and Europe for examples of superior design.
When a farm of 160 acres was secured (and later added 434 acres), a consecration ceremony was provided for the community. These founders publicly proclaimed their hope that the natural setting would be a contemplative atmosphere conductive to consolation, commemoration, and education.
A Tourist Attraction
Given its popularity, today as much as then, I believe the founders achieved their goal. The
1875 issue of Cincinnati Illustrated described it as “a peaceful resting place for the dead and a beautiful park for the living.” Indeed, more than 150,000 people visited the cemetery in 1874 alone, not including those who were attending actual funerals!
Those who had family members interred in Spring Grove had tickets and were able to introduce strangers and come and go as they pleased. However, those who did not have family members interred there, were required to obtain tickets from the Secretary’s office in Pike’s Opera House.
Can you imagine walking through the Spring Grove entrance and someone saying, “Ticket, please?”
The broad and beautiful Avenue, with its magnificent trees, brings the living and the dead alike to the final abode of rest and release from strife and contention where there are laurels and roses for the blue, lilies and myrtles for the gray. After generations have passed away, the massy granite, embedded in green turf, shaded by trees then venerable with age, and embosomed in flowers may look down upon the graves of many whose lives have been as romantic, if not so sad, as Eloise’s – as deeply loved as Fatima’s. Then some poet like Pope or some noble romancer like Scott will arise and in another Epistle or another “Old Mortality” tell the tale of those who are gone.
– Cincinnati Illustrated, 1875, p 319
As a kid I would walk through our local cemetery. It was always so peaceful and quiet. As an adult, I attended a funeral at Spring Grove Cemetery and it was beyond beautiful. Almost two centuries later, it is still the contemplative atmosphere the founders hoped for.
What about you? Do you enjoy walking through cemeteries or do they give you the heeby geebies? Would you purchase a ticket to walk through one? Have you actually done it?
Kenny, Daniel J. Illustrated Cincinnati; a Pictorial Hand-book of the Queen City, Comprising Its Architecture, Manufacture, Trade. Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1875. Print.
Want to see more pictures? Visit Spring Groves Photo Gallery.