Construction of Memorial Church

Realizing a Religious Space

The groundbreaking for Memorial Church began after several years of planning, and actual construction commenced on January 29, 1900. Jane Stanford employed numerous architects and craftsmen to realize her monumental vision.

Memorial Church Keystone

Laying of keystone, Memorial Church, March 15, 1904. Stanford Historical Photograph Collection.

Architects Henry Hobson Richardson, Charles A. Coolidge, Clinton Day, and Charles E. Hodges designed the edifice. Jane Stanford traveled abroad, especially to Italy, for iconographic inspiration, and commissioned Maurizio Camerino and his company to design the church’s mosaics. Their mosaics launched a new development of laying tesserae, or mosaic pieces, in which they glued tesserae onto a paper sheet rather than enacting a piece-by-piece installation. This Venetian mosaic commission was the most extensive mosaic project conducted in the United States, and the first that employed on-site Venetian craftsmen. Antonio Paoletti produced original watercolors for the mosaics and the New York-based stained glass company, J & R Lamb Studios, built the stained glass windows. The total cost of the church’s initial building, which seats 1,700 people, amounted to $750,000. Interestingly, Jane Stanford requested equal visual representation for men and women, hence the windows and mosaics depict numerous biblical women, among them Mary, Martha, Ruth, Deborah, Rebekah, the Queen of Sheba, Eve, and Saints Margaret, Mary Magdalene, Helena, Gertrude, and Elizabeth. The church amalgamates numerous architectural styles, namely Late Victorian, American Renaissance, Mission Revival, Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolist, Byzantine, and Romanesque. Artist influences on the mosaics and stained glass include Gustav Doré, William Holman Hunt, Sibyl C. Parker, and Cosimo Rosselli (whose Last Supper was reproduced behind the altar). The cherubim mosaics near the chancel were supposedly modeled after the children roaming about the campus when the church was being built. Jane Stanford famously remarked that “while my whole heart is in this University, my soul is in that church.”

Pamphlet for Salviati and Company, a Venetian workshop commissioned by Jane Stanford to create the church’s mosaics

Bios: Henry Hobson Richardson – Boston-based architect whom the Stanfords commissioned to design Memorial Church.
Charles A. Coolidge – A student of H.H. Richardson who took over the Memorial Church architectural program after Richardson’s death in 1886.
Clinton Day – A San Francisco-based architect hired by the Stanfords to revised the blueprints of Coolidge.
Maurizio Camerino – Venetian friend of Jane Stanford who managed the mosaic firm, Salviati and Co., and designed the mosaics for Memorial Church.
Antonio Paoletti – Artist who created original watercolors for Memorial Church’s mosaics.
J. & R. Lamb Studios – A glass and decorative arts company in New York, founded by brothers Joseph and Richard Lamb in 1857. This firm created the stained glass windows of Memorial Church.
Charles E. Hodges – An architect in Palo Alto who supervised the entire Memorial Church project.
McGilvray Stone Co. – A stonework company led by John Duff McGilvray, who
Memorial Church, as well as the outer quad.
E.A. Hettinger – Local carpenter who completed the church’s woodwork.
The McNeely Foundry – A company located in Troy, New York, that cast the bells of the Church’s original tower. The chimes were modeled after those in London’s Parliament building.

floor plan, Memorial Church

Architectural floor plan, Memorial Church


Featured image: Construction of Memorial Church, c. 1900-1902.  Stanford Historical Photograph Collection.