Guest column: Aspen Chapel—The word ‘chapel’ means to care
The Aspen Chapel has an early French connection in a good way. Rev. E.M. Yost first saw a renovated mill in France that had been converted to a wayfarer’s chapel and it became his vision for the Aspen Chapel.
The sculpted glass in the stained glass windows is from France and designed by a Frenchman named Jean Jacques Duval. The windows are an artistic portrayal of the Beatitudes. The word beatitude is an old French version of the Latin word beatus or beatitudo meaning blessed.
One of the primary donors of the land on which the Chapel sits, Jim Vandeveer, was personally motivated to do so because he found solace and peace in French chapels when he was a young soldier in General George Patton’s 50th Infantry.
Then we discover that the very word “chapel” has a French origin and evolves from this famous true story. It began in the Fourth Century with a young Roman soldier named Martin who cut his cloak in two to share with a poor man in need.
That night, Martin had a vision in a dream that Jesus was wearing his Roman robe. This was probably in keeping with the text in Matthew 25:40 when Jesus is quoted about caring for others, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Martin felt called to become a Christian and leave the Roman army.
Surviving imprisonment, he later became a monk and established the first monastery in Gaul known as France today, the Liguge Abbey. He later became a beloved priest in the Cathedral of Tours, France.
He kept his half of his Roman cloak as a reminder of his calling. After his death in 397 CE, he was sanctified as a saint. As a symbol of his kindness and care, his torn cloak was venerated in a small addition to the cathedral. This room became known as the cloak room. The French word for cloak or cape in old French is chapele and so the room became the Chapele room.
This French word simply became chapel in English and is applied to any small room of devotion adjoining a larger cathedral or church. Simply put, the word “chapel” is clearly from the act of kindness and care demonstrated by Saint Martin.
Rev. E.M. Yost became a bishop in the Mennonite tradition and was most motivated by purposes of peace just as Saint Martin had changed his life from soldier to priest and was motivated to care for all people.
The original name of the Chapel was the Aspen Chapel of the Prince of Peace. The name “Prince of Peace” is only found within the Hebrew text of the book of Isaiah, chapter nine, verse 6. It is from the Eighth Century BCE and is filled with borrowed phrases referring to the Davidic monarchy and the accession of a Judean king; an ideal king, divine in power, enduring of fatherly or brotherly love and care.
The Prince of Peace would be the king who brings peace and prosperity. It was only much later after the death of Jesus that Jesus was assimilated as the fulfillment of the Prince of Peace. Therefore the phrase became adopted and/or adapted by Christianity. Because of this association, the name of the Chapel simply became the Aspen Chapel.
There are many people who have liked the name “Prince of Peace,” but the Chapel’s motivation to change was to, shall we say ironically, be in greater peace and respect with our brothers and sisters of the Aspen Jewish Congregation who became part of the Aspen Chapel. This cooperation was an act of peace not just in name but in practice.
The purpose of the Aspen Chapel remains to promote peace through interfaith engagement, progressive theology, and spiritual enrichment. And as a “Chapel” in our 50th anniversary year, we need to always be reminded of the origin of the term chapele and to share what we have with all people who are part of the Aspen community or come through our doors.
Aspen Chapel is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is writing a monthly column on the first Sunday of the month in 2019. Rev. Gregg Anderson is the Chaplain Emeritus, or given the name “Chaplain,” also known as “Coat Room Attendant.”