The role of the Chapel in a large public mental hospital | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

The role of the Chapel in a large public mental hospital

December 21, 2009
by Patricia H. Bazemore, MD and Stephen M. Soreff, MD
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Construction of new Massachusetts Psychiatric Hospital in Worcester goes forward in the snow. The 1877 version of Worcester State Hospital featured a large chapel in the central administration building situation just behind the clocktower which still stands. The chapel and its artwork were destroyed in the fire of 1991. This central meeting place was used not only for religious services, but for various events such as dances which admitted patients of both sexes.

Many photographs of the chapel still exist and some are available in the Worcester Historical Museum. The most prominent piece of art in the old chapel was a painting of St. Peter being loosed from his chains by an angel. The angel was the central feature of the painting but the chains were clearly visible. Perhaps this was seen as an allegory by the patients. Perhaps they felt that they would be loosed from the chains made necessary by their illness by divine intervention and this may have inspired many patient prayers. The new chapel will feature stained glass and one suggestion has been made that the glass in the new building carry forward the themes of: unfettered, free movement; outdoors; sunshine; divine intervention; and, especially, hope all derived from the old painting.

The glass artist for the new hospital is Architectural Glass Art Inc. whose portfolio can be seen at



While people certainly have the right to believe or not believe whatever they choose, I find the correlation proposed by that government study interesting. It asserts that the prayers of others inspire divine intervention in the recovery of individual patients.

It is interesting because the ability to intervene means that such a divinity also has the ability to completely heal—or, better yet, prevent the illness altogether. It further suggests a divine "scorecard" which sorts out those deserving of recovery, and, sadly, those who are not.

I am not saying prayers don't work, but the skeptically more plausible explanation is that those patients who received more prayers also had a better social support system—and it is this support system, not divine intervention, which led to an increased recovery.

I read of a government study that said that patients who were prayed for actually got better significantly more and faster than patients who were not prayed for - even if they did not know they were being prayed for.


Patricia H. Bazemore, MD, is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Family...

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