No Typical Texas Church

Willard Spiegelman, the Hughes professor of English at SMU, writes about the Interfaith Peace Chapel of Dallas, the last building famed architect Philip Johnson designed before his death.


Located near, if not exactly on, the buckle of the Bible Belt, Dallas has always boasted more than its fair share of religious organizations and buildings. Highway billboards along the adjacent interstate highways feature pictures of smiling preachers with pressed hair, and names like Reverend Jim and Pastor Joe Bob, urging people to come to Sunday worship.

It's perhaps no surprise, then, that Dallas should also be home to the country's largest gay congregation. What is a surprise is that the Cathedral of Hope—formerly the Metropolitan Community Church, but since 2006 a member of the United Church of Christ—should have, as of November, a handsome chapel designed by Philip Johnson (1906-2005), whose career had a six-decade tie to the Lone Star state.

The Interfaith Peace Chapel was the last building Johnson designed before his death. Originally intended as a smaller piece of an enormous but still unbuilt cathedral, the freestanding chapel looks more like a biomorphic sculpture or a cave (especially from within) than a typical religious building. It stands across a driveway from the current Cathedral of Hope main sanctuary (1992), not a Johnson building. But Johnson did design a bell wall (dedicated in 2000) that acts as a shield between the old part of the "campus" and the new part where, if and when the money is raised, the new cathedral will connect to the smaller chapel.

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