Chapel of the Snows, not originally planned for McMurdo Station, was built as a non-denominational Christian church by the seasonal residents of the station, and is the southernmost religious building in the world.
The desolate McMurdo Science Station, while home to a mere 200 humans during the winter months, can get up to a bustling population of 1,000 during Antarctica’s version of summer. A modest chapel that can hold up to 63 souls at a time, Chapel of Snows does its best to accommodate the spiritual needs of all who brave the brutal environment to work in one of the harshest science centers on earth.
Holding regular Catholic and Protestant services, the chapel also provides a place for Buddhists, Latter Day Saints, and followers of Baha’i to meet, and serves as a gathering place for Alcoholics Anonymous. While designed to be a place of solace, the chapel has had its share of trials.
In 1978, the church was devastated by a fire that started in the rear heater room, and despite the valiant efforts of the fire crew and volunteers throwing snow on the smoldering building, it was a total loss. Mourning the loss of historic memorabilia from winter crews past, but counting their blessings that no one was injured, volunteers pulled together scrap materials and built a temporary replacement.
A refurbishing of McMurdo Station was planned by the National Science Foundation, and a new chapel was included in the design. The new, 2,016-square-ft structure was dedicated in March of 1989 in an hour-long ceremony that attracted an overflowing crowd. The temporary chapel built by the community was left abandoned until it too, suffered a fiery demise during a Condition 1 storm in 1991.