updated 3/7/2007 1:42:36 PM ET 2007-03-07T18:42:36

A compromise announced Tuesday will permanently return a brass cross to the chapel at the College of William and Mary. The move may defuse the outcry that met the president’s decision to remove the cross and prompted one donor to the college to rescind his pledged $12 million gift.

The 18-inch cross will be displayed prominently in a glass case, based on a recommendation made by a committee of alumni, students and others that President Gene R. Nichol created to study the issue.

The cross had been on the altar since about 1940 during religious services and secular events at the publicly funded college. But in October, Nichol removed it to make Wren Chapel more welcoming to students of all faiths. The cross could be returned by request.

After widespread criticism, Nichol said in December the cross would appear on the altar on Sundays, but opponents of the removal sought a more permanent solution.

"The Wren controversy has been a decidedly difficult and sometimes painful one for this community," Nichol said at Tuesday’s news conference. "It has touched depths of disagreement ... that I didn't fully anticipate."

The cross' exact location in the chapel has yet to be determined, but it will be in a prominent place, officials said, and accompanied by a plaque explaining the college's Anglican roots. Officials said the practice is similar to that used by other universities with historic chapels.

Critics have argued that removing the cross is an attack on Christianity and dishonors William and Mary's heritage. The nation's second-oldest college, after Harvard, William and Mary was founded by royal charter in 1693 with a mission that included training Anglican ministers.

More than 14,000 alumni, students and others have expressed their displeasure with Nichol's action by signing an online petition. A competing petition supporting the cross' removal received more than 1,800 signatures.

The move also prompted a longtime donor to the college to withhold a $12 million pledge because of the decision to remove a cross from a campus chapel, the school said. It was not immediately clear whether Tuesday's reversal would lead the donor to restore the gift.

The donor, who was not identified, changed his mind after Nichol's decision in October, Nichol spokesman Mike Connolly said last week.

The loss of the funds “represents a serious setback to the college,” Nichol wrote in an e-mailed statement. “While I know it is intended to make a policy statement, ultimately it only hurts our students.”

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