“Keep It a Holy Thing”: Lee Chapel’s Greatest Challenge
On August 2, 2018, David Cox delivered a banner lecture, “‘Keep It a Holy Thing’: Lee Chapel’s Greatest Challenge.” The chapel that Robert E. Lee built on the campus of what was then Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, almost did not survive to its 150th anniversary this year. In the early 1920s, an energetic president wanted to tear it down to create a vast monumental building to honor his famous predecessor. An unlikely combination of “a little group of willful women,” a crusading newspaper editor, alumni, and Lee aficionados from around the country managed to save it for posterity, even as they redefined its meaning in ways that abide today.
David Cox, a visiting professor of history at Southern Virginia University, teaches American and religious history. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Lexington, where, from 1987 to 2000, he was rector of R. E. Lee Memorial Church. He is the author of The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee and Lee Chapel at 150: A History.