Still, I was surprised to discover a columbarium—a resting place for the ashes of the deceased—tucked away at the back of Chapman University’s Fish Interfaith Center, which houses two chapels and was just completed in 2004.
The columbarium is a beautiful little space, walled in white marble and open to the blue California sky, that manages to seem isolated from the bustle of the campus surrounding it. A garden visible through a window from the larger chapel serves as a sort of forecourt, and an adjoining court has a fountain built into its wall. The sounds of trickling water play softly off the sloping marble and glass, mingling with the faint echoes of voices from outside.
The chapel’s Web page says that each of the columbarium’s niches will hold the remains of two people, and it includes a link for anyone interested in more information (the columbarium is not managed by the chapel staff). Only a few niches have names engraved on them now, although since the chapel is such a recent addition to the campus, I guess that’s not a surprise. It does strike me as curious that people would imagine their ashes in a wall just a few feet from a busy campus pathway, and just across from where the university’s water-polo team practices every afternoon, but maybe Californians take a different approach to these things than I do.
The chapel itself— The Chronicle‘s Becky Supiano wrote about it a while back—is absolutely worth a visit. A long, bright hallway down one side of the building has the fountain wall as its focal point, and as you walk toward it the larger chapel opens up to your left—a radiant space with colored-glass windows set in deep, angled recesses high in the walls. The day I walked through, a student had stopped in to spend a few minutes playing the chapel’s piano—I didn’t recognize the piece—with his backpack lying beside the bench. Behind the big chapel is a smaller one with a small round skylight illuminating its altar—reminding even a casual visitor that faiths of all sorts are all about light, and sound, and life.
I guess the columbarium is a reminder, too, that in a way the dead are as much a part of everyday life as the living—as the water-polo team and the students streaming to classes and the cars. So why shouldn’t they be here, too?