I’ve traveled to many sacred places in Italy from the great cathedrals and basilicas of the major centers of art and commerce to sites of pilgrimage and spiritual renewal. The Duomo of Milan and Florence, Siena and Orvieto, the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, St. Peter in Rome, San Marco in Venice. The stunning Sant’Apollinare in Classe and the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in the world. The impressive cathedrals of Orvieto and Treviso and a cathedral that sits on a Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli) in Pisa. The cathedral churches of Parma and Padua and sacred places in monasteries that rise out of fields of Tuscan wildflowers and those that cling to isolated mountains in stark contrast to the forested valleys below. Abbeys that are open to the sky with Arthurian legends of a round chapel, a knight and a sword in a stone and cathedrals with relics and reliquaries of saints with divine intervention. The romantic cathedral of Verona and cathedrals of UNESCO World Heritage sites like Ferrara and Pienza.
So I was not prepared to be impressed by a chapel on the grounds of a small Midwestern college in the middle of the cornfields of Northern Indiana and yet I was; deeply impressed and profoundly touched by the beauty and spirituality of what is officially known as the Ancilla Domini Chapel and unofficially referred to as the Chapel in the Cornfield.
The chapel’s Neo-Gothic design with soaring columns, massive stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings reminded me of the cathedral churches I have seen in Italy. Overlooking farmland and a picturesque lake with a labyrinth garden the Cathedral in the Cornfiled is smaller in scale yet detailed to reflect the art and architecture of the great cathedrals of Europe. Part of the campus of Ancilla College in Donaldson Indiana, the cathedral sits on land that was purchased in 1918 by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, a group of Catholic sisters who immigrated from Germany. They bought the land and built the Chapel in the Cornfield in 1923 before the college was founded. The sisters will be celebrating the building’s 90th anniversary this October and the chapel has been recently renovated including the original pipe organ that was missing from the choir loft on our visit this past August. Sister Mary Jo, who was kind enough to show us the chapel, told us that the organ was being refurbished in Chicago and would return in time for the anniversary celebrations. Which in the tradition of the great cathedrals of the world will mark a continuation of a sacred place of spiritual renewal for all who pass through its doors.