You won’t see it on any tour. It’s not open to the public. Few people even know it exists.
I’m talking about the “Congressional Prayer Room” in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC, a room set aside as a private and quiet place for Congressmen to pray whenever they want.
Here’s what it looks like inside today:
And here’s what it looked like back in 1956 soon after it opened (there are a few differences):
Sorry the photos are a bit low quality! Because it’s a private space not open to the public, it’s hard to find high quality photos of the inside. But the above photos should at least give you a sense of the room.
The design is intentionally interfaith. The special committee that approved the final plans had representatives of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism (what “interfaith” consisted of in 1956 America).
As you can see in the photo, the room includes a wooden altar of sorts, candles, an open Bible (usually opened to Psalm 23), a few chairs, kneelers, plants, and an American flag. But the focal point of the room is the stained glass window in the center.
Here’s a closeup of the stained glass:
The person kneeling in prayer is George Washington, the first U.S. president. In the red glass around him is Psalm 16.1, “Preserve me, O God, for in thee do I put my trust.” Above him is “This Nation Under God,” a quote from president Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
At the very top and bottom are the two sides of the Great Seal of the United States. At the top is the pyramid and eye with the Latin phrases Annuit Coeptus (“God has favored our undertakings”) and Novus Ordo Seclorum (“A new order of the ages is born”). At the bottom is an eagle with the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum (“From many, one”).
The creation of this sacred space dates back to July 22, 1955 when both chambers of Congress passed a resolution requesting for a prayer room be designed for members of Congress in the Capitol building.
Here’s the official text of the resolution:
Congress then issued a short pamphlet called “The Prayer Room in the United States Capitol” in 1956 that explained why the prayer room had been created, what was inside, and what various Congressmen at the time thought about it. You can look through a digital copy of it here.
Here’s a better picture that shows the stained glass, candles on the wooden altar, and an open Bible:
So what do you think of the chapel? Is it surprising to you that this exists?
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