By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
The College of William and Mary's president and board agreed yesterday to restore the altar cross to permanent display in historic Wren Chapel to quell a controversy that began with its removal in the fall.
Under a compromise recommended by a committee of students, alumni and faculty, the 18-inch cross will be placed in a glass case in a "prominent, readily visible" location in the chapel, according to a statement by President Gene R. Nichol and the board of visitors. It will not be on the altar, Nichol said.
The display will be accompanied by a plaque explaining the college's origins as a training ground for Anglican clergy and its long ties to nearby Bruton Parish Church.
Wren Chapel's sacristy will also be available to house sacred objects of any religion, and the chapel will continue to serve as a place of worship and a site for the college's "most solemn occasions," the officials said.
"This recognizes both the history and tradition of the chapel and works to make it more open and welcoming to people of other faiths," Nichol said in a telephone interview.
Nichol directed that the cross be removed from display in the fall in the hope of making the chapel more welcoming to people of all faiths. But the move quickly created controversy and put one of the country's oldest schools in a national spotlight of a debate over freedom of religion. Opponents put up a Web site calling for the cross's restoration, http://www.savethewrencross.org, that has collected more than 17,000 names.
Wren Chapel, built in 1732, is the ceremonial heart of the school. The local parish gave the altar cross in the 1930s.
Nichol and the board members said the plan follows the unanimous recommendation of the 14-member committee, which included critics of the cross's removal. The committee was convened at the president's request in his State of the College speech in January.
"There is no doubt I could have done things differently," Nichol said. "But to be honest, I think this is progress."