The Horatio N. May Chapel was built in 1899 as an eternal memorial to one of Chicago’s first paid firefighters, who was also a major grocery and dry goods supplier. Mr. May died while on retreat in his hometown of Mannheim, Germany. His wife, Anna, was so inspired by the German cathedrals that she bequeathed $75,000 for the construction of the chapel at Rosehill.
Joseph Lyman Silsbee, the chapel’s architect, was commissioned because he had designed the May home on Astor Street. Silsbee was the chief architect for J.L. Cochran’s Edgewater Development Company from 1886 into the 1890s. He is credited with bringing the shingle style of home architecture to Chicago.
The style of the May Chapel is Romanesque (or English) Gothic, its hallmark being the use of heavy stones and massive form. The façade is divided in three at the base with a single gothic stained glass above. The portico’s heavy Gothic arches, made of Minnesota gray granite, bid entry through two massive carved wooden doors. The ceiling of this portico is a beautiful design of mosaic glazed tiles. The portico is supported with tapered stone buttresses.
The entrance opens into a small foyer. Stained glass windows above the door allow for limited light and continue through the entrance the beautiful design of laurel leaves, a symbol of everlasting life. This design is repeated in many variations. Note the ceiling mosaic and the interlocking design of the border of the floor, much like an oriental carpet. This beautiful tile work can be found throughout the building.
The chapel itself is a masterpiece of color and design. Standing in the back, your attention is drawn to the walnut ceiling and carved walnut ribbed vaulting which meets at the top of gothic arches. From this point hangs a Bavarian glass and bronze chandelier with side lights of crystal pendants. When the light is on, a prism effect is created. On the sides where the ribbed arches meet the wall, a wooden bracket with carved cherubs extends into the open space. The angel wings continue along the side of the bracket, which is quite elaborate and decorative. The pews are quarter sawn oak. The stained glass windows flood the room with light with panels of both gold and clear textured glass. The panels are framed in red glass gothic arches in both the large windows and along the sides. Above the side windows is a decorative terra cotta relief in a floral pattern.
The open space in the chapel is surrounded by stepped risers with bronze floral design. These were used to hold flowers for the final burial ceremony. Another massive hand-carved door opens into a temporary holding area. This vault was once used to receive up to 100 departed during winter months, until ground could be broken in the spring. No longer needed, it is nonetheless a fascinating part of Rosehill history.
As you leave the chapel please read the quote on the choir balcony and leave this building with the memory of the beauty of this special place.