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The only 15th-century Catholic church still in use in America


Ed Bierman | CC

Zelda Caldwell - published on 08/25/17

Marquette’s Joan of Arc chapel contains a stone said to have been kissed by the saint herself.

Where is the oldest building in the Western hemisphere that is still used for its original purpose?

You might be surprised to learn that it’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and that it’s a 15th-century Catholic church where Mass is still celebrated.

The Joan of Arc Chapel has been a fixture of the Marquette University campus since it was moved to the Jesuit Catholic university, brick by brick, 50 years ago

In 1927, Gertrude Hill Gavin, the daughter of an American railroad magnate, purchased the chapel and had it shipped from the village of Chasse in France’s Rhone Valley, to her family’s estate (also a French chateau that she had purchased) in Long Island. Shortly after that, the France enacted a law banning such purchases to protect the country’s cultural heritage.

Gavin, who was a devotee of Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France and hero of the Hundred Years War, received permission from Pope Pius XI in 1933 to have Mass said in the building (the letter still hangs in the nave).

Along with the chapel, Gavin also purchased a 13th-century altar and the “Joan of Arc stone,” which St. Joan is said to have prayed upon after battle. Legend has it that the stone is always colder to the touch that the stones around it.

In 1962, after Gavin had sold the chateau and chapel, the new owners donated it to Marquette University. Workers spent nine months disassembling the chapel stone by stone, and labeling them before loading them onto trucks headed to Milwaukee.

Marquette University

The resassembled church opened its doors to the public in 1966 and continues to draw hundreds of the faithful each week. Services are open to the public and are popular among students.

Church History
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