Jane Stanford recasts the identity of the church in-progress as a memorial to her late husband, Senator Leland Stanford. As former Chaplain Bob Gregg writes in his book about Memorial Church, The Glory of Angels, the imagery chosen by Jane Stanford “spoke to hope, suffering, and recovery.” Moreover, the original plaque placed in front of the church read “Erected to the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of My Husband Leland Stanford.”
Students came together to mourn the death of Senator Stanford. A letter from an alumna of the class of 1908 recalls his funeral: “My mother attended the funeral services for Senator Stanford and then hurried home to have us three children go to the Mausoleum to see the horse made of dark red sweet peas, and it was the exact size of his famous racer. There were many floral pieces sent down from San Francisco. We appreciated these and also were aware that we would never see ‘the Stanfords’ drive by our house again as they did frequently to explore the new town.”
The totality of the university project was dedicated to Leland Stanford Jr., Jane and Leland Sr.’s son who died at the age of fifteen from typhoid fever. The first issue of the Quad, the Stanford yearbook, opens with this dedication to Leland Jr.: “To the happy memory of Leland Stanford, Junior, whose early death opened for us an avenue to higher life, in gratitude and reverence we dedicate this book.” A stained-glass window in the church, known as “Lo, I Am with You Always,” depicts Leland Jr. being carried into heaven by angels.
The Stanfords envisioned the church within a liberal Protestant framing, and wanted it to represent an ecumenical community of worshipers. According to the Annual Register of 1891, “religious instruction is provided in accordance with the provision of the Charter which prohibits sectarian instruction, but requires the teaching of ‘the immortality of the soul, the existence of an all wise and benevolent Creator, and that obedience to His laws is the highest duty of man.’ Voluntary chapel services are held daily, and a sermon or address on some religious or ethical subject is given every Sunday morning by some clergyman or layman invited from abroad, or by some member of the Faculty.”
Featured image: original façade of the Memorial Church, before 1906. Stanford Historical Photograph Collection