Travel Tips, November 2010, Page 74
Thanks-Giving Chapel's Islamic Design a Visual, Spiritual Gem in Downtown Dallas
By Elaine Pasquini
Sitting amid the steel and glass skyscrapers of the Dallas business district, Thanks-Giving Chapel's white spiral building is a beautiful—and unusual—sight. A curvilinear chapel resembling the 9th century Al-Malwia (snail shell) freestanding minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq, built by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil, is not a building a visitor to Dallas expects to see. Another pleasant surprise is the Qur'anic verse "Grateful praise is due to God alone, the Lord and Nourisher of the worlds" engraved on a granite column at the entrance to Thanks-Giving Square. A portion of Psalms 100 appears on the Wall of Praise, also at the square's entrance.
In 1971, the Dallas-based nonsectarian Thanks-Giving Foundation hired renowned American architect Philip Johnson to design a chapel that would celebrate the value and spirit of the institution of thanksgiving. Completed in 1976, Johnson's white marble aggregate building dominates the three-acre triangular site that is dedicated to spiritual reflection. A sloping bridge built over a cascading waterfall connects the courtyard to the chapel. From his study of art history, Johnson was inspired by the spiral form of the Samarra minaret—which is similarly connected to the Great Mosque by a bridge.
"The spiral design perfectly conveys the foundation's dual mission of offering a place for all people to give thanks to our creator and celebrating the value and spirit of thanksgiving for both sacred and secular cultures throughout the world," Tatiana Androsov, Thanks-Giving Square's president and executive director, told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,.
Inside the chapel, a visitor's attention is immediately drawn to the Glory Window (above), a multi-colored stained glass ceiling created by Gabriel Loire. This striking creation was memorialized in a United Nations stamp in 2000, the International Year of Thanksgiving. In one area of the room is a large white Carrara marble cube mounted on a sandstone circle made of local Austin stone. The cube is symbolic of the unification of mankind; the circle symbolizes eternity.
The Hall of Thanks-Giving, located on the ground floor beneath the interfaith chapel, features permanent and temporary exhibits on the history and role of Thanksgiving in the United States and the global importance of the concept of thanksgiving.
During the week, the chapel is a convenient and tranquil location in an otherwise busy city for Muslims working in the downtown business district to pray. "Although there are 22 mosques in the Dallas area, many Muslims working in this part of town like to come here, especially for Friday prayers," Androsov explained.
Visitors from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa come to the chapel as part of the U.S. State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program, she added. The Thanks-Giving Foundation is a Department of Public Information NGO with the United Nations. For more information, visit <www.thanksgiving.org>.
Elaine Pasquini is a free-lance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.