A Brief History

May 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the chapel, which occurred May 28, 1967, immediately following the baccalaureate service for 116 graduating seniors of Florida Presbyterian College (later renamed Eckerd College).

Inspired by 20th-century architect Eero Saarinen, the Chapel was designed by the highly respected Chicago architectural firm of Perkins and Will. Its key design features are its octagonal shape and in-the-round seating, the oculus at the center of the roof that directs sunlight to the center of the sanctuary, the lower glass panels which reflect light from the water outside to the interior, and the girders which recall the flying buttresses of the medieval cathedral, instilling a sense of timelessness in a contemporary structure.The multiple sources of light symbolize enlightenment from God and from the world.The central communion table, a gift of former Trustee John B.Turner and his wife, is designed to prevent any ecclesiastic from standing between the people and the sacred things of God.

The Chapel was originally named for Ben Hill Griffin Jr., of Frostproof, Florida, whose $480,000 gift funded its design and construction. Mr. Griffin, a founding Trustee of the College, served on the Board for 20 years. He was a leader in the citrus industry and a Florida state legislator from 1956-1968.

The Griffin Chapel was completed in time for the first church service of the 1968-1969 academic year on September 1.The Chapel was officially dedicated on March 9, 1969, the day after Dr. Billy O.Wireman was inaugurated as the second President of Florida Presbyterian College.

The Organ

The 45-foot-high Chapel ceiling was built in part to accommodate the great sound of the Chapel's organ. D. A. Flentrop of Zaandam, Holland, one of the most respected organ builders in Europe, designed it specifically for this structure and installed it in 1970. A 45-rank, 36-stop, tracker-action instrument, it is encased in the same African mahogany used for the Chapel's pews, lectern, and communion table.The façade pipes are burnished copper.The Tallahassee family of Mr. and Mrs. J. Colin English purchased the organ for the Chapel; Mr. English was a founding member of the College's Board of Trustees. Mr. Flentrop attended the organ dedication ceremony in February 1971, at which Albert de Klerk, the principal organ teacher at Amsterdam Conservatory, performed an organ recital.The same weekend, Mr. Flentrop gave a public lecture-demonstration on organ design and techniques at the Chapel.

The Carillon

The Chapel calls people to worship and mindfulness with the sounds of a Schulmerich Carillon, purchased during Chapel construction by Mr. and Mrs. A.R. Staley of Naples, Florida. George J. Schulmerich, an electronics engineer in the 1930s, invented this form of electro-mechanical bell instrument as an alternative to costly, heavy, and hard-to-tune cast bells.The Schulmerich Carillon uses tiny rods of bronze bell metal struck by miniature hammers. There are thousands of Schulmerich installations all over the world, including Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S.S.Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. In the late 1980s, Mr. and Mrs. John Wm. Galbraith gave a gift to renovate and recalibrate the Carillon to return it to its original splendor.

The Oak Cross

An important piece of the Chapel's heritage is a small oak cross given to the College in the late 1960s by Professor Robert J. Gould. It was carved from 830-year-old oak wood salvaged from the original beams of the Orkney Cathedral of St. Magnus that was constructed on the Orkney Islands in 1137.When the cathedral was renovated in the 1920s, the original beams were removed and saved as “cathedral oak.” While visiting the islands, Professor Gould was given a piece of this wood and he asked a native wood carver to carve it into a cross.

Bible and Bible Stand

The Bible usually placed on the stand is a large red-leather pulpit Bible given by the Senior High Young People of the Florida Synod Presbyterian Church U.S. in December 1959.

Given by Boris Mark Isserlin and his wife Niuta, who taught piano at the College for many years, the brass and enamel Bible stand is still used at Interdenominational Christian worship.