Lakewood Cemetery's memorial chapel marks 100 years

by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
May 28, 2010
Photo: #The ornate mosaic tile work inside Lakewood Memorial Chapel was designed by Charles Lamb and inspired by San Marco Cathedral in Venice, Italy.
Photo: #Erik Hamilton examines the dome of Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis Thursday, May 27, 2010. Lakewood Memorial Chapel, which features some of the finest Byzantine mosaic art in the country, is marking it's 100th anniversary this year.
Photo: #Lakewood Cemetery president Ron Gjerde discusses details of Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis Thursday, May 27, 2010. Lakewood Memorial Chapel, which features some of the finest Byzantine mosaic art in the country, is marking it's 100th anniversary this year.
Photo: #Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis features extensive mosaic tile work and original copper doors.
Photo: #Students and staff from Minnehaha Academy in Bloomington, Minn. gathered outside Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis Thursday, May 27, 2010. The chapel was built using red St. Cloud granite.
Photo: #Elizabeth Vandam, author of Harry Wild Jones: American Architect, stands in Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis Thursday, May 27, 2010. Harry Wild Jones designed the exterior of the Lakewood Memorial Chapel.
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Minneapolis — Cemeteries are usually noted for who's buried there.

Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis is no different: Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone are interred there, as are Minnesota governors, business legends and military veterans dating back to the Civil War, including Medal of Honor recipient Lewis Grant.

But this weekend, Lakewood is marking something on its grounds.

Lakewood's memorial chapel opened a century ago this year. It's considered one of the nation's architectural treasures and a stunning example of decorative arts.

"This is probably the most perfect example of Byzanine mosaic art in the country. I don't think there's anything that compares to it," said Ron Gjerde, president of the cemetery.

He points out the chapel's interior, decorated with about 10 million hand-set tiles. They depict a dozen golden guardian angels, a grove of olive trees through the seasons of the year, and a passage from the Song of Solomon.

Tiled medallions show depictions of faith, hope, love and memory on the chapel's four pendentives -- those are the triangular arches that adapt the 40-foot blue dome to the square chapel. Virtually every inch of the interior is tiled.

Architect Harry Wild Jones designed the chapel. He also designed the brooding Scottish Rite Temple in the Lowry Hill neighborhood and the monumental Washburn Park stone water tower in Minneapolis' Tangletown.

Elizabeth Vandam wrote a 2008 biography of Jones. She lives in Eagan and loves his Minneapolis work, although it's often considered in the shadow of Minnesota's other famed architect, Cass Gilbert.

"And I think a lot of that has to do with the competition for the design of the state Capitol, which Harry was also a part of," Vandam said. "And Cass Gilbert, of course, that's his design. So, it put Cass on the map more so than Harry. Cass was also from the area. Harry was a feisty little New Englander, and I get the impression of having a meeting with Harry Jones, you would have a headache when you left, because he just couldn't stop talking. I think it was a difference in personalities."

That difference is set in stone in the Lakewood chapel.

It's modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, built as a monumental Eastern Orthodox church. It was an Islamic mosque when Jones visited it on his world travels in the early 1900s.

The Lakewood chapel's interior was designed by renowned mosaicist Charles Lamb and installed by artisans brought from Italy for the task.

A century after they finished, the chapel remains an exotic gem among the pale stones on the graves at Lakewood.

And it's still very much alive.

"We use the chapel regularly for funeral ceremonies. We use it regularly for wedding ceremonies," Gjerde said. "And some grade schools have used it as a graduation place for students leaving the sixth grade and going on to junior high and things like that."

This Memorial Day weekend it will also be open for free guided tours, from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday and Monday. Lakewood also plans a traditional Memorial Day observance Monday morning.

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