Fall 2018

The Rebirth of Biola's Calvary Chapel

By Barry H. Corey

Biola students returning to campus this fall encountered a Calvary Chapel that has been artistically transformed.

This summer, the renowned Danish artists Maja Lisa Engelhardt and Peter Brandes teamed together as wife and husband for their first fully collaborative project: Calvary Chapel’s sacred art renovation. Peter is a painter, sculptor, ceramic artist and photographer. Maja Lisa is well regarded as an abstract painter. Beyond Denmark we have seen their work from New York to Paris to Grand Rapids to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Peter and Maja Lisa are beloved, nationally recognized artists in their home country. Their reputation is advancing globally. They are both involved in liturgical design and have created work for over 20 churches with stained glass, painted altarpieces, floor coverings, mosaics, vestments and metal work, all essential components of their extensive ecclesiastical projects.

Paula and I were introduced to Maja Lisa and Peter during Biola University’s 2011–12 Year of the Arts through Roberta and Howard Ahmanson, generous supporters of Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts. The Year of the Arts was focused on exploring the intersection of art and faith by bringing together artists and thinkers in a wide variety of disciplines. During that time, Paula and I began not only to understand their artistic expression but also their hearts. 

Over the past seven years we’ve come to know them personally. In October 2014 and again in March of this year, Paula traveled to Denmark to view exhibits of their art. It was there she witnessed the breadth of their work, from churches to museums to Parliament to public spaces. In this time, she came to know their art is something they must do. It comes from within them as an expression of their deep faith. Their art provokes thought. It relates beauty. It calls us to worship. It is what we need even more in this modern day. Their expressions of creativity direct us to glory in the Creator, the author of truth, beauty and goodness.

Thanks to a lead gift from Roberta and Howard Ahmanson and the generous support of other Biola friends, Biola was able to partner with Peter and Maja Lisa to transform Calvary Chapel with contemporary art. Stained-glass windows with innovative lighting, a stunning gilded wall relief and Danish-designed furnishings now decorate the chapel. The new artwork and renovations seek to enhance the chapel’s sacredness by creating a greater architectural and artistic balance between the interior space and the worship experience.

While the exterior of Calvary Chapel remains relatively unchanged from its original appearance since its construction in 1975, Maja Lisa added a large gilded bronze cross above the front entry doors bearing a sculpted impression of the physical body of the crucified Christ, emphasizing his finished work on the cross. Upon entering the chapel, the first piece visitors see is a gilded relief sculpture by Maja Lisa titled Resurrection, installed on the entire west wall, which seeks to capture the mystery of Easter morning. Thirty-two stained-glass windows painted by Peter embellish the four wings of the chapel, depicting images such as Saul and David, Isaac and Abraham and the Prodigal Son.

On Sept. 7, the Biola community gathered for a sacred arts service of worship, where — through music, poetry, Scripture reading and prayer — we rededicated Calvary Chapel. The format of the service reflected each of the four wings of the chapel, unfolding the grand narrative of Scripture in the stained-glass windows of the building’s cruciform design. The sacred art pieces enriched our experience of worship in new ways and brought about a deeper connection to God’s Word.

Each project of Maja Lisa Engelhardt and Peter Brandes begins only after much thought and prayer. They seek to hear from the Holy Spirit. Their work at Calvary Chapel is no exception. What they have created for our chapel will draw not only the Biola community to a new depth of worship, but we pray that all who visit will come to experience the presence of God and the glory of the resurrected and exalted Christ. This renewed sacred space will stand for generations to come as a visual testimony to Biola’s continued commitment as a biblically centered university.


Barry H. Corey is the eighth president of Biola University. Visit his office online at biola.edu/president, or follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/presidentcorey, on Instagram @presidentbarrycorey and on Twitter @presidentcorey.

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