Timeline

understand the history

The Rothko Chapel opened in 1971 as a landmark of modern sacred art and a sanctuary for contemplation. It serves as a global destination for people of all faiths, and a pilgrimage for art lovers and spiritual seekers alike.

 

1951

Completion of Henri Matisse’s influential Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France

The French Impressionist considered this small chapel built for Dominican sisters in France his masterpiece.

 

1955

Completion of Le Corbusier’s influential Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France

The Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, and writer created what has come to be known as one of the most important examples of 20th century religious architecture.

 

1962-1965

Second Vatican Council, Vatican II, inspiration for the Rothko Chapel

Informally known as Vatican II, the Second Council marked an effort to address the challenges that political, social, economic, and technological change posed to the Catholic Church.

 

1964

de Menils commission Mark Rothko to create a sacred space for Houston

When Dominique and John de Menil commissioned the American artist Mark Rothko to create the paintings for the Rothko Chapel, the artist was at the height of his career.

1971

Rothko Chapel opens

 

At the dedication, Mrs. de Menil remarked about Mark Rothko: “As he worked on the chapel, which was to be the greatest adventure of his life, his colors became darker and darker, as if he were bringing us to the threshold of transcendence, the mystery of the cosmos, the tragic mystery of our perishable condition.”  

 

1981

Inaugural Rothko Chapel Award for Commitment to Truth and Freedom

The Chapel presented these awards every five years to exceptional people who distinguish themselves through their courage and integrity. Past winners include CONAVIGUA, the National Coordinating Group of Guatemalan Widows, and Juan Guillermo Cano Isaza and Ignacio Gómez of El Espectador of Colombia. 

1986

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visits

 

The South African social activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner gave the keynote speech at the Rothko Chapel Awards ceremony.

1986

Ecuador’s Leonidas Eduardo Proaño Villalba receives first Óscar Romero Award

 

Bishop Proaño, “Bishop of the Indians,” as he was called, defended the rights of indigenous people of Ecuador for land reform. His efforts improved the inter-ethnic relationship marked by generations of discrimination and economic exploitation.

 

1988

Brazil’s Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns receives Óscar Romero Award

Cardinal Arns, Archbishop of São Paulo, an internationally known human rights advocate, was chosen to receive the award for his long and indefatigable efforts on behalf of the poor, and for his remarkable courage in confronting the terrorism of the military regime that held power in Brazil from 1964 to 1985. One of his most extraordinary accomplishments was the surreptitious collecting and publishing of detailed documentation from military archives concerning secret detentions, torture, and execution of thousands of the disappeared.  

 

1990

El Salvadorians Bishop Medardo E. Gomez Soto and María Julia Hernández receive Óscar Romero Award

Maria Julia Hernandez, director of Tutela Legal, the Catholic Archbishopric’s human rights and legal aid office in El Salvador, was recognized for her great courage under dangerous conditions in reporting human rights abuses by both the government and rebel forces. Under her leadership, Tutela Legal documented human rights violations and provided legal aid to victims. Bishop Gomez, of the Resurrection Lutheran Church of the Salvadorian Synod, was honored for his courageous support of peace and human rights in El Salvador. As violence escalated there, the Lutheran Church expanded its work with the poor and the displaced. Bishop Gomez, church leaders, and members suffered harassment, threats, capture, and torture for their stand in support of peace and reconciliation. 

 

1991

His Holineses the Dalai Lama visits

The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and Nobel Peace Prize winner hosted Prayer for World Peace: A Special Interfaith Service, which included representatives from Houston’s Hindi, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities.

 

1991

1991 Nelson Mandela receives Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize

The civil rights leader, African National Congress president, and former political prisoner came to the Rothko Chapel on December 5, 1991, less than two years after being released from 27 years behind bars in his native South Africa. Former President Jimmy Carter and Rothko Chapel founder Dominique de Menil presented Mr. Mandela with the Carter-Menil Award for human rights. Texas governor Ann Richards and other dignitaries attended the event.

 

1991

Guatamelan Monseñor Rodolfo Quezada Toruño receives Óscar Romero Award

Monseñor Quezada, Bishop of Zacapa and Pastor of Esquipulas, was the moving force initiating and maintaining dialogue with the conflicting parties during Guatemala’s civil war. As principle mediator, he obtained a commitment from both the government and the National Revolutionary Unity to find a peaceful settlement to the political, social, and economic problems of the country.

1992

Nobel Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú visits

 

Rigoberta Menchu, a leading advocate of Indian rights in Guatemala and throughout the Western Hemisphere, spoke at the Chapel just prior to her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received that same year.  

 

1993

Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje receives Óscar Romero Award

Oslobodjenje, a daily Bosnian newspaper run by a multi-ethnic, multi-religious team of journalists in Sarajevo, was established during World War II as the voice of liberation. Their unity of purpose and commitment to democracy expressed the fundamental hope of the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the early 1990s, despite Serbia’s efforts to destroy this symbol of multi-ethnic cooperation, the paper continued to be printed and distributed under bombing, sniper fire, and critical survival conditions. 

1997

Algerians Salima Ghezali and Abdennour Ali Yahia receive Óscar Romero Award

 

In 1994, Salima Ghezali became Algeria’s only female newspaper editor when she took over La Nation, a French language weekly with a circulation of 60,000. Mrs. Ghezali was continuously under threat of kidnapping, torture, and death for refusing to submit the publication to the authorities for censorship. Abdennour Ali Yehya, an Algerian attorney and former government minister, distinguished himself under various regimes by his persistent denouncement of human rights violations and by his tenacity to uphold legal safeguards for the victims. He was arrested, detained, and deported for his struggle for freedom and the defense of his fellow citizens.

2003

Dr. Ishai Menuchin receives Óscar Romero Award

 

Dr. Ishai Menuchin helped found Yesh Gvul, an Israeli organization dedicated to supporting soldiers’ right to refuse orders, on moral grounds, from their military superiors. Once a Major in the Israeli Defense Forces Reserves, he was imprisoned for insisting that there is a limit to what citizens or soldiers should be required to do.

 

2005

Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International receives Óscar Romero Award

Established in 1998 by Sr. Ortiz, an Ursuline nun, TASSC is a coalition of survivors based in Washington, D.C. The group, which currently represents more than 60 countries and ethnic groups, calls for the abolition of torture and mistreatment. Sr. Ortiz survived imprisonment and torture in Guatemala while serving as a missionary teacher of Mayan children. 

 

2007

Shanti Seliz and Daniel Strauss receive Óscar Romero Award

Arrested in 2005 for evacuating three violently ill migrants from the Arizona desert for urgent medical care, Ms. Sellz and Mr. Strauss were recognized for their integrity and willingness to risk their freedom for their belief that providing humanitarian aid should never be a crime. They donated half of their award to No More Deaths, a Tucson-based organization dedicated to giving humanitarian aid to prevent deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border.  

 

2009

Dr. Murhabazi Namegabe receives Óscar Romero Award

Dr. Namegabe led a sustained and successful effort in the Democratic Republic of Congo to rescue and rehabilitate children recruited to serve as soldiers by warring rebels in that country.

2011

Algerian Nassera Dutour receives Óscar Romero Award

 

In 1998, Madame Dutour founded the Collective for the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria and its partner organization, SOS Disparus, which provides legal support to families. Her life’s work was sparked by the disappearance of her own son, Amine, who was 21 when he inexplicably disappeared in January 1997. 

2013

Blanca Velázquez of Mexico receives Óscar Romero Award

 

A champion of worker’s rights and dignity in Mexico, Ms. Velázquez Díaz is the director of the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (Center for Worker Support – CAT), which she and a few other young, female labor rights activists founded in 2001. The center promotes the rights of workers in Mexico’s garment and auto parts industries in Puebla, and has faced powerful, often corrupt, and violent opposition.   

 

2015

Berta Cáceres and Miriam Miranda of Honduras receive Óscar Romero Award

Berta Cáceres, a Lenca indigenous woman, was a founding director and general coordinator of Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras. Berta was assassinated on March 2, 2015 in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Miriam Miranda, a Garifuna woman, is executive director of Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña. The two women share a strong solidarity and friendship. When Berta was threatened and criminalized, Miriam’s organization responded through an emergency grant. When Miriam was kidnapped, Berta was the first to denounce the act.