On the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee is a chapel, but one that did not begin its life in Wisconsin. It was built in France in the 15th century as the Chapelle de St. Martin de Sayssuel in the village of Chasse, a few miles south of Lyon in the Rhone Valley. Today it’s known as the St. Joan of Arc Chapel.
The structure was purchased in 1926 by millionaire railroad heiress Gertrude Hill Gavin who had it dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt on her estate in Brookville Long Island as part of her French Renaissance chateau.
In 1962 Marc and Lillian Rojtman purchased the Hill estate and the chapel. They were from Milwaukee and had strong ties to Marquette, several years earlier Lillian had given the university a large collection of Old Masters paintings. They donated the chapel and its contents to the university which had it disassembled and shipped to Milwaukee.
The chapel is a remarkable piece of Gothic architecture, but what makes it special resides within: the Joan of Arc stone. Documents sent with the chapel show that in 1429 this stone supported a statue of the Virgin Mary, at which Joan of Arc prayed before leading her countrymen into battle with the English in the Hundred Years’ War.
Besides the stone, the chapel arrived with other furnishings: a 15th-century Gothic altar; a 14th-century tapestry depicting the Virgin Mary, priests, and angels; and wooden prayer kneelers, a crucifix, a baptismal, and a Gothic font. On the front lawn are Roman urns that date to the 2nd century.
Many old buildings have a story to tell, but few have one that spans this much history and geography.