Sacred space

DukeChapelextA recent visit to Duke Chapel reminded me of how some places take on the nature of the sacred.

DukeChapelIntThere’s just something about them. With their high, vaulted ceilings, formal sanctuaries like Duke Chapel and any number of cathedrals I’ve visited are designed to generate a sense of personal smallness that helps one feel a bit of awe and wonder that is enhanced by the glow of stained glass windows and the pattern of shadows on the floor.

DukeChapelPulpitPulpits in such places tend to be elevated and topped by an elaborate sounding board designed to help project the speaker’s voice in the days before microphones. The sounding board at Duke Chapel is in the shape of a tall spire, pointing upward, as if to remind the speaker that his or her words are being heard by God as well as the congregation.

DukeMouse2Like many similar chapels, the one at Duke includes a couple of wooden mice, as a reminder that God hears any prayer, even one whispered so softly that only a mouse could hear it. The mouse in this much-enlarged cell phone image is atop a speaker on the left side of the chancel.

The nice thing about sacred spaces — whether in a majestic cathedral, a rural church, or a beautiful outdoor setting — is that you don’t even have to whisper a prayer: when struck by God’s presence, your soul does it for you.


  1. Sacred: “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity.” This is from ABC News a while back: “Duke University will allow same-sex commitment ceremonies in its famous gothic chapel, a move cheered by some students and criticized by others.” In this one act, the cathedral becomes no more than a furniture store. In and of itself, a building is not sacred, no matter how beautiful. Worship predisposes obedience to scripture, not by the building but by the people who gather there. Worshiping political correctness instead of God makes the chapel a place of blasphemy.

  2. Tony, I believe you have solved a long-standing mystery for me. I have an old carved chest that has symbols of the four gospel writers, of Peter and Paul, and in all of the corners are mice (or rats) and no one has ever been able to tell me the significance…I like your take. My husband will take a photo and send it to you in a few days…

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