The Cavalier Daily
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A University tradition: getting married in the Chapel

Exploring Chapel history, venue-booking processes, alumni reasons for returning to Grounds

<p>In 2015, 63 weddings were held in the Chapel &mdash; nearly half of the number held there in 2008.</p>

In 2015, 63 weddings were held in the Chapel — nearly half of the number held there in 2008.

Students walk by the University Chapel — known for its rich history and distinct Gothic style — almost every day on their way to class and meetings. However, not all students realize the Chapel is a highly-demanded venue for wedding ceremonies. Couples for whom the University holds a special significance return to Grounds each year to be married at the place where they met and fell in love.

History of the Chapel

When Thomas Jefferson founded the University, he did not have any plans to include a chapel on Grounds due to his firm belief in the separation of church and state.

Commonwealth Professor Richard Guy Wilson, chair of the University’s Department of Architectural History, said plans were drawn up for a chapel in the center of the Lawn at least twice after Jefferson’s death. Construction was never carried out due to a lack of funding and subsequently the Civil War, Wilson said.

After the Civil War, the wives of several faculty members raised money for the Chapel, which was designed by Engineering Alumni Charles Emmet Cassell of Baltimore.

“[The purpose] was to bring Christianity to Grounds,” Wilson said.

University Historian Alexander “Sandy” Gilliam said the position of University chaplain was abolished in 1895 as Grounds became surrounded with churches of different denominations.

“Due to all the churches, the true need for the Chapel ended, but it was used as a venue for meetings, weddings, concerts, initiations, etc.,” Gilliam said.

Though it is unclear exactly when the Chapel started being used for weddings, both Gilliam and Wilson said it was likely not long after the building’s completion in 1890.

By the numbers

Today, Assistant Director of Student Activities Kendra Paisley rents out the Chapel to couples who want to use the venue for their weddings. The average annual number of weddings held in the Chapel from 2008-15 was 106 per year, while the average in the 1970s was approximately 130 weddings per year, Paisley said.

In 2015, 63 weddings were held in the Chapel — nearly half of the number held there in 2008.

April through June and September through October are the most popular times to book weddings in the Chapel, Paisley said.

“Typically, you can expect about 3-4 weddings on a Saturday,” Paisley said in an email statement. “Saturday is generally the day of choice for wedding ceremonies.”

Getting married in the Chapel costs $200 for full-time University students, $350 for “alumni, staff, faculty, administrators and their immediate family” and $750 for people with no affiliation to the University, according to the Dean of Students’ Event Planning website.

Graphic By: Kriti Sehgal

The booking process

The process of booking a wedding in the Chapel begins approximately one year before the couple’s date of choice.

“Requests are accepted for the Chapel a year out from the current month, and are processed on a first-come, first-served basis,” Paisley said. “The only exception to this policy is for the months in the subsequent academic term where the academic schedule isn’t yet finalized.”

Couples who want to get married during the beginning of the next academic year enter a lottery system when the schedule is announced.

“The academic schedule is based on the football schedule and is typically announced towards the end of February,” Paisley said. “We open requests for these months on March 1, and that is the only date that we process requests on a lottery basis. We do this so that couples are not staying up until midnight to beat other requests by [a] matter of seconds.”

The scheduling process used to involve a lottery system for all months.

Alumni Gary and Kathleen Sherman researched which months were less popular in an attempt to increase their chances, but ended up getting their date of choice. They were married April 5th, 2008.

Couples who get married in the Chapel face numerous restrictions due to the historic nature of the building.

Couples may not use real wax candles, bring pianos into the Chapel or exceed 250 guests, according to the Dean of Students’ Event Planning website. On days when multiple weddings are scheduled, couples may also be restricted to two hours for their ceremony, which includes time to set up and clean up.

Why the Chapel?

Alumni Harry and Mousumi Franks met during Mousumi’s first year and dated throughout her time at the University. For them, the decision to get married in the Chapel was an obvious one.

“[My husband] was there for seven years, I was there for six years — we were definitely getting married in Charlottesville,” Mousumi Franks said.

The Franks were able to use the Colonnade Club for their reception by getting a faculty member to sponsor them.

“Typically, [couples] hold their receptions off-Grounds, but sometimes they’ll book one of our spaces in Newcomb, a garden, or through the Colonnade Club,” Paisley said. “Some groups also use Alumni Hall.”

The Franks were married June 1, 1991.

“It’s all familiar; it’s a place you walk by every single day for 6 years… so that was like our home,” Franks said. “[Anyplace] else would’ve felt institutional compared to that.”

Lynsey Miller, who was married nearly 10 years later in March 2010, expressed a similar view.

“We never doubted our choice of having it there because it’s where we met and everything so it definitely holds a very special place for us,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a thing that we’ll get to show our children when we go back and visit.”

Other couples commented on the significance of the Chapel not only for themselves, but for their guests. For alumni Luca and Caroline Scuillo, a major factor in choosing the Chapel was ensuring their family could see the University, where the pair got engaged.

“All of our guests were able to get to know the Lawn and see the Rotunda,” Caroline Scuillo said. “My family coming from France and my husband’s family coming from out of state, they had never visited Grounds, and so it was important for us to see everyone there and have them see exactly where we were engaged.”

Alumna Blaire Ruch, who married alumnus Hunter Ruch in 2000, said it was valuable to have the couple’s friends from the University as part of the ceremony. Approximately 100 of their guests were current and former University students. B. Ruch’s a cappella group, CHoosE, also performed a song at the wedding.

“I think [the wedding] was probably memorable for other guests that were there because they had connections to the school and the Chapel … just being together and being on the Grounds, together again,” Blaire Ruch said.

The architecture of the building was a pro for alumni Michael and Christy Devlin, who were married there in 2008.

“The Chapel is smaller than most Catholic churches, which made for a more intimate setting,” Christy Devlin said in an email statement.

The beauty of the surrounding area, especially the Lawn and the Rotunda, also serve as motivators for couples who get married on Grounds.

“To have these photos to look back on with the Rotunda, it just exemplifies our entire love story, so it wouldn’t have been a perfect wedding any other place,” Scuillo said.

Regardless of the reasons couples choose to get married in the Chapel, they all share a strong connection to the University and believe their love for the University and their love for each other go hand in hand.

“The Chapel brings a sense of community to U.Va.,” Kathleen Sherman said. “It is simply an amazing building; it’s a wonderful piece of architecture and we are so thankful to have that piece of U.Va. to add to our life story.”


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