When I was at William and Mary in the early 1970s it was a tradition — and probably still is — for enterprising thrill-seekers and scofflaws to mount expeditions into the steam tunnels that run under the campus.
The steam tunnels form a network of catacombs connecting the steam plant behind Trinkle Hall with all the older buildings on campus. Sources among current undergraduates tell me that the tunnels have been improved, with lighting and more adequate ventilation. They also carry the backbone of the College’s computer network cables.
But in my day they were pitch-dark and carried nothing but steam, in thick insulated pipes that ran along the ceiling of the tunnel. They were so cramped and low that you couldn’t walk normally; you either moved in a continuous crouch, or crawled. God help you if the batteries in your flashlight gave out.
There were occasional leaks in the pipes, so that visitors had to skirt certain spots cautiously in order to avoid being scalded. The whole place was dusty and quite hot, even in the winter — a real taste of the underworld, with the troglodyte college boys filling in for imps and daemons.
Campus rumor had it that certain fraternities required aspiring members, as part of the initiation process, to negotiate the steam tunnels all the way to the crypt under the chapel in the Wren Building, and prove that they had been there by bringing back a bone from one of the tombs. There was a legend that a skull from the crypt was on display in a special locked “trophy room” in one of the frat houses.
The student newspaper, The Flat Hat, decided to send a reporter down into the tunnels to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Photographing those cramped places would have been difficult at best, and none of the staff photographers was willing to go down there. The reporter needed an artist who was brave (or foolhardy) enough to join the expedition as an illustrator, so the job fell to me.
We entered the steam tunnels through a rotted wooden door in a service room in the basement of Monroe Hall, a residence hall for male upperclassmen. The reporter had a fairly accurate schematic diagram of the route we needed to follow — a hundred yards forward, right into the main trunk line under the big sidewalk, another hundred yards and take a left into the adit leading to the crypt — but it in no way prepared us for the oppressive heat and claustrophobia of the experience. We finally made it to our destination, passing through a broken-down wooden door and climbing through a hole in a brick wall before entering the crypt itself.
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Whatever skeletons had once lain in that dark grotto were long gone. All the brick tombs were broken and empty. We shone flashlights into each of them and saw nothing but dust and the buckled remnants of the lead liners that had once been inside the rotted-away coffins.
It was obvious that the crypt had had many previous visitors — there were initials carved on the walls with dates going back into the 19th century. Blackened spots of wax drippings on the brick ledges indicated that some of our predecessors had been in here with candles rather than flashlights. But no bones and no skulls, alas. I found a single human tooth on a ledge, and theorized that a previous visitor had placed his trophy skull there for a moment before climbing back out through the hole in the wall.
The Flat Hat eventually published the reporter’s story with my illustrations, causing the College no small embarrassment about the lack of security for the Wren Chapel crypt. The following year, when I went down in the tunnels again, the old wooden barrier had been replaced with a steel-reinforced door set in a cinderblock wall. No more excursions into the Wren Chapel crypt!
The old rumors lost some luster when someone researched the history of the crypt and found out that the College had removed the human remains from the tombs many years ago, and had them re-interred in the Bruton Parish cemetery. So those frat brothers with their trophy skulls were probably noting but an urban legend.
On the other hand, there was that tooth I found — so who knows?
Up the stairs and through a locked door from the crypt lies the Wren Chapel, a venerable institution of the Church of England, and later the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. The chapel is located at the southern end of the Wren Building, the oldest and most famous of William and Mary’s buildings. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, completed in 1699, and has burned three times — at least once to a shell — and been reconstructed.
In colonial times, regular services were held in the chapel, but it is now only used for special occasions. If you’re a William and Mary alumna of a certain background, the Wren Chapel is the only place you will want to have your wedding.
And now the Wren Chapel is the focus of yet another campus controversy. It has become an opportunity for the College to abase itself once more before the altar of political correctness. It seems that the gold cross on the altar is not inclusive enough to please the gods of Diversity, so it has to go.
It’s not as if any Wiccans or Buddhists complained about the offensive symbol — the College just wants to demonstrate its multicultural sensitivity by pre-emptively removing the cross.
On October 27th — during Homecoming weekend, mind you — after some weeks of controversy and rumor, the President of the College sent out this email:
Dear Fellow Members of the William & Mary Community:
Questions have lately been raised about the use of the Wren Chapel and the cross that is sometimes displayed there.
Let me be clear. I have not banished the cross from the Wren Chapel. The Chapel, as you know, is used for religious ceremonies by members of all faiths. The cross will remain in the Chapel and be displayed on the altar at appropriate religious services.
But the Chapel is also used frequently for College events that are secular in nature — and should be open to students and staff of all beliefs. Whether celebrating our happiest moments, marking our greatest achievements, or finding solace during our most profound sadness, our Chapel, like our entire campus, must be welcoming to all.
I believe a recognition of the full dignity of each member of our diverse community is vital. For this reason, and because the Chapel is surpassing [sic] important in William and Mary’s history and in the life of our campus, I welcome a broader College discussion of how the ancient Chapel can reflect our best values.
Gene R. Nichol
Notice the PC keywords larded throughout this missive — “welcoming”, “dignity”, “diverse”, and “values”. Those little markers trump other words like “tradition”, “history”, and “public opinion”, and lead you into the mind of a full-fledged multicultural college administrator. President Nichol thus demontrates that he wants to lead a quiet life during his tenure, and then claim the Golden Parachute when his time is up.
Will Coggin — the young man who organized the Homecoming feather protest described in my previous post, and who has now given permission to use his name — tipped us to a website that he and his associates have set up to protest this outrage. It’s called “Save the Wren Cross”, and you’ll notice that Mr. Coggin and his friends have left the feathers in the William and Mary logo used on the site.
There is an online petition you can sign, if you are a W&M student, faculty member, or alumnus, or simply an interested resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
There is also a video of the Wren Cross being removed from the altar and locked away in a closet. In a closet. Christ asked us to pray in a closet — but did He want His holy rood to be locked up there, too?
The Wren Chapel is a Christian institution, and the College’s original charter designated an explicit association with the Church of England. The association was transferred to the Episcopal Church (then the Church of Virginia) after the Revolution, and a partnership with the local Bruton Parish Church continues to this day.
The removal of the cross is offensive in the extreme, not just to Christians, but to all alumni and friends of the College of William and Mary. It denies history, tradition, and the part of the Christian faith in the making of William and Mary and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
If you’re on vacation in Thailand and visit a wat, do you object to taking off your shoes at the door? Are you offended by the burning of candles? Do you feel excluded by all those statues of the Buddha?
When I visit a synagogue during Hanukkah, the menorah is not “unwelcoming”. It doesn’t offend me; it reassures me that I am in a Jewish house of worship, and that everything there is as it should be.
This crusade against the cross is more evidence — as if we needed any — of the inherent racism of the Multicultural Left. We, the educated, literate, sophisticated savants of the West, we’re able to handle all the religious icons of other faiths. No problem; we’re hip and savvy intellectuals. We’re modern and tolerant and ready to include anyone and everyone.
But, according to the reigning PC orthodoxy, those other people, those idol-worshipping heathens, are too primitive to be able to tolerate evidence of other religious faiths. They simply can’t bear the sight of the cross. They run bug-eyed from the room when they see it, because it’s so big and powerful and scary and offensive, and so, well, Christian.
And there are other undercurrents to this issue. Ultimately, for the members of the Anointed who run the academy, the important thing is to install Orthodox Atheism as the institutional religion. We must at all times remain on our guard against the Christers and the fundies, who wait in the wings, ready to overthrow secular modernism and institute theocracy at the drop of a hat.
Give me a break.
This PC-multicultural nonsense — which aims to eliminate all refernces to Judaism and Christianity — has passed the point of ludicrousness and reached the realm of demonic insanity. It’s time to put a stop to it.