We love Milwaukee buildings. There’s history and intrigue in each and every one. And while the annual Doors Open Milwaukee gives us a chance, for just one weekend, to visit the majority of our local landmarks, the oldest building in Milwaukee is in fact open to the public just about every day. What’s more, it’s WiFi-capable.
The St. Joan of Arc Chapel is a world-traveling sanctuary. Built in the 15th(!) century, the original Chapelle de St. Martin de Seysseul sat deteriorating in its first home near Lyon, France for some 500 years.
In the early 1900s it was rediscovered by French architect Jacques Couëlle and eventually sold to New York railroad heiress, Gertrude Hill Gavin.
Dismantled, shipped to Long Island, reassembled, and renamed to honor St. Joan of Arc, the chapel only lasted in its second home for less than a tenth of the time it was in France. In 1962, Gavin sold the chapel to Marc and Lillian Rojtman, who (due in part to threatening fires) gifted the structure to Marquette University in downtown Milwaukee.
Since 1966, Marquette students have been able to attend mass in the St. Joan of Arc Chapel built for the same purpose 500+ years earlier.
The interior shows an amalgamation of architecture and decor of the different centuries the chapel has existed. From the stone arches, to the intricate ceiling and ancient tapestries, it’s an imposing sight in a small package.
Back behind the matching altar is the pièce de résistance: a stone placed into the wall by Gavin back in Long Island, verified by the country of France as being one St. Joan of Arc prayed over and kissed before battle.
Legend says that the stone, upon being kissed by Ms. of Arc, has thenceforth been cooler to the touch than any around it. Our resident scientific liaison, Katie, verified this to be true.
Masses are still celebrated daily and are open to the public, as are regular guided tours. We saw dozens of studious Golden Eagles taking a break between classes in the beautifully-maintained garden and quad surrounding the chapel. The St. Joan of Arc Chapel is an ancient and hallowed respite in the bustling urbanity of downtown Milwaukee.