When the 11th hour struck on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the four-year nightmare of World War I — “The Great War” — officially ended. The world awoke to find some 22 million dead and a like number physically wounded. Never before had any generation witnessed such concentrated death and destruction.
About 11,000 Harvard men served with the Allies, and the University lost more than 375 men in the war, including four on the German side. Among the fallen was Lionel de Jersey Harvard, Class of 1915, the first of John Harvard’s relatives to attend the College. Then a separate institution, Radcliffe College mourned three of her own who served as nurses.
Hoping never to witness a comparable catastrophe, many survivors felt impelled to create durable tokens of grateful remembrance — and implicit warning. As one expression of that impulse, Harvard’s Memorial Church proved both pious and practical.
In 1925, an Overseers’ committee recommended that $1 million be raised for a new College chapel to honor the Harvard men lost on the Allied side and to replace the increasingly cramped Appleton Chapel, built in 1858. By June 1931, the wrecking ball had taken its first swing to make way for an edifice (designed by Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch & Abbott) grand enough to accommodate a new but smaller Appleton Chapel within its walls.
Completed in time for dedication on Nov. 11, 1932 (Armistice Day, now Veterans Day), the church boasted a spire pointing more than 170 feet aloft and a tower housing a 5,000-pound bell first selected as a new College bell by music professor Archibald T. Davison during a 1926 visit to Loughborough, England. Like so many objects connected with the church, the bell bears a thought-provoking inscription:
In memory of voices that are hushed
More readily visible is the south portico’s concisely chiseled statement of purpose:
In grateful memory of the Harvard men who died in the World War we have built this church
Beyond the doorway beneath these words, the walls of the Memorial Room whisper of lives cut short in a desperate cause. Dominating the space is “The Sacrifice,” a Caen-marble sculpture by Malvina Hoffman redolent of chivalric ideals forever shattered by the war.
“The War to End All Wars” proved but an upbeat to the most destructive era in history. In response, the Memorial Church has added names and tablets to the sanctuary walls to become Harvard’s locus of public remembrance for all the major armed conflicts of the 20th century in which the University’s faculty, students, and graduates have given their lives.
On Armistice and Veterans days across the decades, the church has steadily borne witness to its commemorative origins, lest Harvard forget the human cost of World War II (Memorial Wall, 1951) and the wars in Korea and Vietnam (two tablets, 1976). Most recently, the church has revisited its roots to embrace Radcliffe’s brave nurses. A tablet unveiled on Veterans Day 2001 now honors them as well. — Marvin Hightower
Memorial Church to celebrate 75 years through song, reflection
In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Memorial Church will host the following special events and services over the coming weeks.
Oct. 30: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76, violinist Lynn Chang ’75, and pianist Richard Kogan ’77 will perform at a benefit concert for the anniversary celebrations. Premier seating for the 8 p.m. concert is $150 per ticket and general seating is $75 per ticket. All concert tickets must be purchased through the Harvard Box Office, (617) 496-2222.
“The Harvard Trio,” as these renowned performers were known in the 1970s, will present a reunion concert reminiscent of their benefit concerts for Phillips Brooks House during their student years.
Nov. 1-Dec. 31: “Heralds of Light: John Harvard and the Memorial Church, 1607-1932-2007” — an exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the baptism of John Harvard in Southwark Cathedral, London (on Nov. 29, 1607), and the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Memorial Church (Nov. 11, 1932) — will be held in the Pusey Library.
The exhibition will feature some little-known aspects of John Harvard’s life, including a page from the Southwark Cathedral record book listing his baptism and a page from the Emmanuel College records showing the only copy extant of Harvard’s signature. Also included are memorabilia such as rare Harvard books, china, silver, flags, and banners.
Featured as well will be materials from the dedication of the Memorial Church, photographs of the Plummer Professors of Christian Morals and Gund University organists and choirmasters, names of those who died in war, and samples of Bibles and Harvard University hymn books used throughout the years. The Memorial Church shield, designed by the late Professor Mason Hammond, will also be on display, as are selections of early church silver and furniture.
Nov. 4: A tablet recognizing the 400th anniversary of the baptism of John Harvard will be unveiled in the church. The tablet is a gift of the dean and chapter of Southwark Cathedral, London, and the master and fellows of Emmanuel College, John Harvard’s alma mater. The preacher will be the Rev. Colin Slee, dean of Southwark Cathedral; he and the master of Emmanuel College, Richard Wilson, will present the tablet at 11 a.m.
Nov. 11: The Memorial Church will celebrate its 75th anniversary at its annual service of the Commemoration of Benefactors and of the War Dead on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. The service will be followed by a celebratory luncheon under a marquee on the Delta (the triangular patch of ground just west of the entrance to Loker Commons in Memorial Hall) at which President Drew Faust will offer remarks, followed by an address from Gov. Deval Patrick. While free of charge, reservations are required. To make a reservation, contact the church office at (617) 495-5508 by Oct. 26.
Nov. 13-15: Additionally, church officials have announced that the William Belden Noble Lecturer for 2007 will be internationally acclaimed author and historian Karen Armstrong. Established in 1898 by Nannie Yulee Noble in memory of her husband, the lectures are scheduled for Nov. 13–15 at 8 p.m. According to the terms of the bequest: “The object of the Founder of the Lectures is to continue the mission of her husband, whose supreme desire was to extend the influence of Jesus as ‘the way, the Truth, and the Life,’ and to illustrate and enforce the words of Jesus — ‘I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’” The Noble Lectures are free and open to the public.
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