FEATURE image: April 20, 2017 7.31 mb 99%
FEATURE image: Exterior of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church with its gold domes. The tradition-minded parish, founded in early 1970s, serves a busy urban community.
The huge mosaic over the main entrance memorializes the conversion of the Ukrainians to Christianity in 988 by St. Volodymyr of Kyiv or Vladimir of Kiev (957-1015). The mosaic was executed by Hordynsky, Makarenko, and Baransky. The church is built in the modern Byzantine style.
In addition to the colorful and bright mosaic, the upward angle and its perspective adds to the feeling of entering into a sacred space. Along with the archways and curve of the main golden dome, the eye focuses on the artwork’s bright figures.
Who are Sts. Volodymyr and Olha? Their little-known story – which is important to the Ukrainian people and pivotal to European history – is told in some detail immediately follows these photographs.
The beautiful outdoor garden setting provides the setting for a larger-than-life-sized statue of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj (1892-1984) who is the Founder of the parish and a “Confessor of the Faith.” The residential streets of Chicago’s Ukrainian Village provide the background to the artwork.
Parishioners praying and going to Communion at Sunday Mass.
With the artists’ skills, the bright colors and evocative forms of the artwork surround churchgoers as they move toward the altar at Communion during the Divine Liturgy.
The colorful and vibrant decorations that include paintings, carvings, vestments, books, stained glass, and more, are integral to the parish’s liturgy and life.
Two women sit before icons of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha and the Blessed Virgin.
Every nook and cranny of the church is decorated with colorful images from religious and Catholic Ukrainian history. The natural light streaking down from the main dome’s windows adds a heavenly glow.
Two female haloed saints in a modern art style are marked by their unique attire as one holds an unfurled scroll with words in Ukrainian. Christianity arrived into Ukraine by way of the Greco-Byzantine world over 1000 years ago.
A painting of the dormition of Mary is emphasized by, above, an icon of Mary and the child Jesus. Colors, forms, and subject matter are very high quality and soft and peaceful making them pleasant to look at and pray with.
The wood carvings and full-length portrait icons are gorgeous. The fresh flower arrangements further brighten the scene.
Visitors are joined by worshippers lighting candles and praying before a large icon of Mary and the child Jesus.
The main altar gate of carved wood with icons and gold curtain. The Last Supper in center above.
Residents and (below) a residence’s porch flower garden in Ukrainian Village near Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church in Chicago.
Stained glass, paintings, banners, and chandelier blend together and provide a more complete picture of people and episodes of the faith. North wall and ceiling.
High above the sanctuary is a magnificent view of the main dome painted in bright colors with the figure of Christ Pantocrator. Christ gives his blessing as he holds an open book with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and omega. It signifies one of Christ as the Son of God’s titles in the New Testament: “I am the beginning and the end” (Revelation, 21:6, 22:13).
Ukrainian Village is a neighborhood first settled by Ukrainian immigrants in the 1890’s. It is about 4 miles to the northwest from downtown Chicago.
Who are Sts. Volodymyr and Olha?
St. Volodymyr is the apostle to proto-Russian and Russian Christianity. He was the great prince of Ukraine in Kiev. It was ruled by the Varangians, a barbarous Viking tribe from Scandinavia – and Volodymyr (or Vladimir) of Kiev was as barbarous as any of them.
In 988, when Volodymyr was about 31 years old, he was converted to Christianity. The missionaries came from the Byzantine world at Constantinople. The results were immediate: Ukraine was now in close contact with the Byzantine world to the south and its Christian church under the pope.
Volodymyr married the daughter of the Byzantine emperor, Basil II (957-1025). But it was Volodymyr’s personal embrace of the Christian faith that infused the Ukrainian people with their deep and abiding faith. Having received baptism, he set out to be a Christian and not corrupted by money and power that proved a serious temptation for many church and state leaders in the Dark Ages.
Volodymyr used his temporal powers to evangelize the people – his personal example his greatest asset to its success. Though he encouraged various activities and programs in the lives of the people – including the multi-faceted work of Greek missionaries – it was his sincere, transparent, and fundamental reform of his own life that by far had the greatest impact on the Ukrainian people. More than one thousand years after his rule, Volodymyr is still recalled as a generous, humble and devout soul.
As a Christian ruler Volodymyr had doubts about inflicting the death penalty. Though assured by his Byzantine church counselors that his Catholic faith allowed him to follow the law which allowed for it, Volodymyr corrected them and said that that sort of reasoning was not satisfactory to his faith.
Volodymyr, the great prince of Kiev, died a poor man – not only various from his origin but, again, that of many of the ecclesiastics now in the realm. Before his death, Volodymyr dispersed all his money and personal belongings to the poor and to his family and friends. St. Volodymyr’s feast day is July 15. He is patron of Ukrainian and Russian Catholics.
Saint Olha was the wife of the Kyivan Great Prince Igor. Igor signed a peace treaty with the Greeks in 944. The treaty of 944 was drawn up at Constantinople and allowed for Christianity in Ukraine. This toleration already indicates some sympathy for Christianity among the powerful in Kiev. Igor himself, however, in his official position did not embrace Christianity nor officially allow the presence of a structure of Church hierarchy. The treaty was drawn up to quietly allow co-existence of Christians in a pagan Viking culture.
Yet when the Byzantine emissaries arrived in Kyiv, pagan opposition had emerged from the Varangians. The Christians were thrown into abeyance and Igor was murdered in 945. Into this volatile situation the burden of government fell upon Igor’s widow — the Kyiv Great-Princess Olha, and her three-year-old son Svyatoslav (945-972). Her first act was to avenge Igor’s murder.
Olha belonged to one of the obscure ancient-Rus’ princely dynasties, whose Slavic line had intermarried with assimilating Varangian newcomers. Olha’s Varangian names includes Helga and Olga.
Though still a pagan, Olha’s revenge on the Varangians on behalf of her late husband was a victory for the realm’s Christians. Further, having weakened the influence of petty local princes in Rus’, Olha centralized the whole of state rule. She became a great builder of the civil life and culture of Kyivan Rus. Her centralization became an important network of the ethnic and cultural unification of the nation which, when Olha became a Christian, aided in the building of a network of churches. Her essential activities proved key in developing what is the modern Ukrainian national identity. At the same time, important trade with Poles, Swedes, Germans, and so forth, led to significantly expanding foreign connections. One noteworthy development was that wooden buildings were replaced with stone edifices.
Rus’ had become a great power. Only two European realms could compare with it in the tenth century – the Byzantine empire in the east, and the kingdom of Saxony in the west. Both these empires were Christianized and pointed the way to future greatness for Rus’. In 954 Great-princess Olha sailed to Constantinople. Though a display of Rus’ military might on the Black Sea, it was a spiritual mission. Olha’s might and the Byzantines’ wealth and beauty were mutually impressive.
Constantinople was the city of the Mother of God as dedicated by Constantine the Great in 330. Olha made the decision to become a Christian. She was baptized by Patriarch Theophylactus (917-956) with her godfather being the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitos (905-959). She took the Christian name Helen for Constantine’s mother. Following the rite, the Patriarch said: “Blessed are you among the women of Rus’, for you have forsaken the darkness and have loved the Light. The Rus’ people shall bless you in all the future generations, from your grandson and great-grandson to your furthermost descendants.” Olha replied: “By your prayers, O Master, let me be preserved from the wiles of enemies”. It is precisely in this way, with a slightly bowed head, that Saint Olha is often depicted in religious artwork. During her state visit, and following her baptism, Great princess Olha of Rus’ was fêted throughout Constantinople
Saint Olha devoted herself to efforts of Christian evangelization among the pagans, and also church construction, including Saint Sophia Cathedral. Yet, many despised her new found Christianity and paganism became emboldened. They looked to the reign of Svyatoslav who angrily spurned his mother’s Christianity. Meanwhile Byzantine church and state leaders were not eager to promote Christianity in Rus’. In Olha’s lifetime, Kyiv favored paganism and had second thoughts about even accepting Christianity. By order of Svyatoslav, churches were destroyed and Christians murdered. Byzantine political interests found the church and state looking to undermine Olha’s influence and favored the Rus’ pagans.
Olha attempted to help Svyatoslav during a period of wartime, though Kyiv was a backwater to his imperial interests for the next 18 years. In the spring of 969 the Pechenegs besieged Kyiv and Olha headed the defense of the capital. Svyatoslav rode quickly to Kyiv, and routed the nomads. But the warrior prince wished to rule elsewhere than Kiev. Svyatoslav dreamed of uniting all Rus’, Bulgaria, Serbia, the near Black Sea region and Priazovia (Azov region), and extend his borders to Constantinople. Olha warned her son that his plans were bound to fail as the Byzantine Empire was united and strong.
On July 11, 969 Saint Olha died. In her final years, with the triumph of paganism, she had to secretly practice her faith. Before her death, she forbade the pagan celebration of the dead at her burial and was openly buried in accord with Orthodox ritual. A priest who accompanied her to Constantinople in 957 fulfilled her request.
Considered by Ukrainians the holy equal of Great Prince Volodymyr, St. Olha was invoked by St. Volodymyr on the day the people of Rus’ were baptized. Before his countrymen, St. Volodymr said of St. Olha: “The sons of Rus’ bless you, and also the generations of your descendants.”
Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American Religious Architecture, Jeffrey Howe, Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, California, 2003.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 260.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, pp. 577; 760-761.
Chicago: City of Neighborhoods, Dominic A. Pacyga and Ellen Skerrett, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1986, p. 193.
FEATURE image: Chicago. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.
At the western main entrance are the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag and the blue and yellow Ukraine flag. An avenue of trees lines the south side of the cathedral building. With its huge size and detailed architecture, St. Nicholas stands prominently on its 20 city lots.
The huge yellow brick church building in Chicago’s tree-lined Ukrainian Village neighborhood is 155 feet long and 85 feet wide. Among its details, the building is renowned for its frescos and mosaics. St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral’s impressive design and footprint on the skyline of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods was built as a worthy emulation of the 11th century (former) St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine. The church on Chicago’s near West side was built by the firm of Worthmann and Steinbach which built many churches in Chicago in the 1910’s and 1920’s. In the mid1970s the church interior was completely renovated and restored by a Ukrainian artist. Ukrainian Catholics follow the Byzantine-Slavonic Eastern Rite and acknowledge the pope in Rome as their spiritual leader.
History of the Cathedral parish
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic parish was founded in 1905 by a group of 51 Ukrainian working immigrants. These Ukrainians arrived on Chicago’s northside in the late 1890’s from western and Carpathian Ukraine. Irish, Germans and Poles were already well established in Chicago by this time and built churches. The Ukrainians not only arrived later, but also were committed to their eastern-rite, Greek Catholic origins. They actively looked to fend off incorporation into the Latin rite under a mostly Irish Catholic hierarchy in the Chicago diocese. To this effect, the parish board adopted a resolution stating: “[T]hat all property of said church which may hereafter be acquired be held in the name of its incorporated name but under no conditions shall said church or its priests or pastors be ever under the jurisdiction of bishop or bishops except those of the same faith and rite.”
By 1911 it became clear that a new, larger church was needed for the growing Ukrainian community. Twenty lots were purchased on Rice Street between Oakley and Leavitt for $12,000 and building began. In 1913, Bishop Soter Ortynsky blessed the cornerstone of the new church. This Ukrainian Catholic church parish community relocated out of its original site and ventured about one mile directly west to build their new church under Fr. Nicholas Strutynsky. Fr. Nicholas had recently arrived from Ukraine and remained at St. Nicholas parish until 1921.
In 1941, St. Nicholas parish was host to the Eucharistic Congress for Eastern Rites. Twenty years later, in 1961, St. Nicholas Parish became St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral when it became the seat of the Eparchy for much of the United States. Msgr. Jaroslaw Gabro, a native son of the parish, became the first bishop of the newly created Ukrainian Catholic eparchy.
Completed in 1915, the magnificent, Byzantine-Slavonic structure with thirteen onion domes representing Christ and His 12 apostles was erected. The first liturgy was celebrated on Christmas Day, January 7, 1915 (Julian calendar). A Ukrainian heritage school (Ridna Shkola) was also founded. By the early 1960s the school had over 1000 students. In 2022, St. Nicholas Elementary School has about 150 students.
When Bishop Gabro announced that churches in the eparchy would need to follow the Gregorian religious calendar that is used in the Latin west, some parishioners left St. Nicholas. In 1974 these parishioners, adhering to the ancient Julian religious calendar. erected Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Church three minutes away on foot across Chicago Avenue.
In 1980 Bishop Gabro who passed away was succeeded by Bishop Innocent Lotocky and a healing began between the estranged Ukrainian churches that continues today. In 1988, an ecumenical commemoration of the millennium of Christianity in Ukraine brought together Ukrainian churches in Chicagoland. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, a new wave of immigrants from Ukraine began arriving in Chicago and joined St. Nicholas Cathedral. In 1993 Bishop Innocent Lotocky retired and was succeeded by Bishop Michael Wiwchar. In 2003 Bishop Michael Wiwchar was succeeded by Bishop Richard Stephen Seminack.
The height of the cathedral building is appreciated looking up from its north side near its main entrance. Metal onion domes turned green by a century of oxidization cap the building’s 16 towers.
The architecture, supported by columns, is curvaceous and spectacularly colorful.
The gold and blue fresco above the altar includes a pair of depictions of the former 11th century St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv on whose design and appearance St. Nicholas Ukrainian Cathedral is inspired. Kyiv is the capital city of the Ukraine and its cathedral is one of the finest examples of East Russo-Byzantine architecture. Kyiv/Kiev, Ukraine became the first capital of proto-Russia in the mid9th century as Slavic lands were organized by Norsemen who, simultaneously, as the fierce Vikings were plundering through much of Europe as they transported their culture.
Before the 9th century was over, the first Christian missionaries had arrived from Constantinople to the south into Russia and Ukraine and many Slavs became Christian. From the 10th to 13th centuries Kyiv, like Moscow to its north centuries later, became the intellectual and religious center of the country, where there were established innumerable monasteries, churches, and convents.
The entirety of murals and ornamentation are permanently affixed on interior surfaces by being painted directly on them. The only icon that was not renovated at this time was the one at the rear of the sanctuary depicting Christ with his apostles and Mother Mary. It was kept from 1928.
Hanging from the center highest dome of the church is a 9-tiered golden chandelier with 480 brilliant lights. The chandelier was made in Greece and is one the largest such chandeliers in North America. The ceiling is in gold leaf and wall decorations depict Christ and the Virgin with Old and New Testament figures such as saints, prophets, and patriarchs, all in bright colors.
A propensity of brown and gold in a color scheme that works. The formidable dome is an integral aspect of the interior decoration.
Hanging from the highest dome, a stunning chandelier of 9 tiers and 480 lights crafted in Greece sets aglow the church interior. The artwork depicts the Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-13). The 12 apostles with Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, are seated in bright primary colors as they are gathered together to receive the Holy Spirit symbolized by a dove from Heaven. This event immediately followed the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.
The subject matter and detailed application of artwork in St. Nicholas Ukrainian Cathedral is derived from the mosaics in the 11th century former Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv, Ukraine. Renovated between 1974 and 1977, the Interior of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral was led by Boris Makarenko (1925-2008), a specialist of Ukrainian Byzantine artwork.
Boris Makarenko was born in the Poltava region of Ukraine between Karkiv and Kyiv. With the outbreak of World War II, Ukraine was thrown into turmoil and Boris was drafted into the Soviet Army. He deserted with a group of friends and joined the Ukrainian Resistance. Boris fought his way across Europe and was eventually recruited into the British Army. Unable to return to his homeland, Boris immigrated in 1950 to the United States. He worked under the famed Ukrainian sculptor Mykola Mukhyn and eventually in a German-based firm where he learned and mastered the techniques of interior ecclesiastical art, restoration, and design. By the late 1950s, Makarenko founded his own studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Using classical methods, mosaics are created by utilizing pieces of smalti and gold whether the mosaics are on the exterior and or in the interior of the church building.
Typically, Italian smalti is poured thicker and cut into thinner pieces. Since they are cut from the inside of exposed molten glass they are more vibrant, consistent and reflective in colors. Italian smalti can provide a coarse or smooth surface depending on how they are laid into a working surface. To begin to understand the complexity and richness of the frescos and mosaic interior of St. Nicholas, the general rule is for each square foot of mosaic surface, about 600 pieces side to side are required. The amount of pieces for the cathedral are into the many tens of thousands.
The altar was built to face ad orientem, properly, “to the east.” This was the tradition and practice of the Catholic Church for nearly 2,000 years. The gold and decorations are outstanding.
Icons are visual symbols of eternal truth in the Christian Faith: the designs are based on archetypal images preserved and regenerated from the very beginnings of Christianity. Iconographers write icons in traditional media using egg yolk tempera and oil-based pigments. The predominance of the gold color that marks these interior paintings and decorations is gold leaf. Called “gilding,” the use of gold leaf pertains to iconography. plaster carvings, wood carvings, and metal.
Stained Glass by Munich Studio of Chicago
The colorful stained-glass is original to the 1915 church. They depict saints of the Catholic Church and were created by the Munich Studio of Chicago. The walls include tall, faceted windows displaying a hybrid of traditional and dalle-de-verre type glass techniques. Akin to mosaic, the latter stained-glass technique lends itself to abstract and highly stylized designs. The Munich Studio of Chicago was a major stained-glass studio in Chicago composed of skilled craftsmen and artists. In addition to the hagiography the windows depict, they also represent the artistic investment of the founding parishioners of St. Nicholas. While the term stained glass covers “colored, enameled, or painted glass”, Chicago’s pioneer “glass stainers” were primarily glass painters who used dark brown vitreous oxide and silver stain to paint designs on pieces of colored and/or opaque white glass. After the kiln firing the pieces were assembled like fragments of a puzzle and connected to each other with strips of malleable lead – called cames – which were fitted and soldered around each piece to create the full window.
The founder of The Munich Studio, Max Guler, was of middle-European extraction, as were the congregations of many of the churches who commissioned his firm for their windows. Guler came to Chicago about 1896 from the city of Munich, Germany where he had studied China painting. In 1898 his name appears in the Chicago city directory as an artist. Four years later the firm of Guler, Kugel and Holzchuh, presumably a small glass shop, is listed; and in 1903 the Chicago city directory first lists The Munich Studio, stained glass, 222 W. Madison, 5th f1r., with Guler as president. Catalog listings from 1910 to 1925 note thirty-two major church installations in Chicago and scores more elsewhere.
In 1913 the company moved from Madison Street to larger quarters at 300 West South Water Street (now Wacker Drive), and in 1923 to 111 West Austin Street (now Hubbard Street), at that time employing over 30 craftsmen, seven doing only glass painting. The Munich Studio imported most of its glass from France and Germany with domestically-made glass from firms in Indiana and West Virginia. As with European stained glass, they were painted with iron oxide and yellow stain and fired in ovens. The Munich Studio continued to prosper until 1930 when the Great Depression brought all building to a near standstill. Since it depended primarily upon the construction of new churches for its business, the economic downturn caused the company’s closing in 1932.
Mosaics of the Stations of the Cross were created by Boris Makarenko.
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral’s regal appearance and design is inspired by the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kyiv. This includes its 13 domes, symbolic of Christ and his 12 apostles. The Chicago cathedral is also similar to the Kyiv model in that it has 5 major domes.
On the steps of the main entrance the facade of the cathedral includes a treasured mosaic depicting “Our Lady of Pochaev.” Above that is an icon of St. Nicholas the Wonder (or Miracle) Worker, the cathedral’s namesake.
Story of “Our Lady of Pochaev”
Ukraine had been Christianized for about 200 years when, in 1198, when St. Francis of Assisi was about 17 years old, a monk climbed Pochaiv mountain in western Ukraine in order to pray. A pillar of fire appeared to the monk and some nearby shepherds. When the flames subsided, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared. The apparition left her footprint out of which a spring of water flowed. This supernatural event led to many others so that the region became dedicated to Mary.
In 1559, Metropolitan Neophit sent to Anna Hoyska an icon of our Lady of Pochaev. The icon shows our Lady wearing a crown and holding the infant Jesus. She holds the end of her veil in the other hand. It is an icon where the cheek of the baby Jesus touches Mary’s face as the infant gives a blessing with his hand. At approximately 11×9 inches in size, the original icon is small. Made from red-pitched cypress, the artist and circumstances of its creation are unknown.
The icon immediately worked a miracle as Anna Hoyska’s blind brother regained his sight. Following her death, the icon was donated to a Basilian Monastery and eventually placed in the Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Mother. Monastery chronicles record numerous miracles during the icon’s stay at their Church.
In 1773, the icon was crowned by Pope Clement XIV. In 1831 Russian Czar Nicholas I expelled the Basilians and gave the monastery to Orthodox monks. In 2001, the icon was moved from Pochaev to The Cathedra of the Trinity of The Danilov Monastery in Moscow.
Who is St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker?
St. Nicholas of Myra (270-340) is one of the church’s most popular and revered saints. He was the bishop of the ancient Lycian town of Myra in the eastern Mediterranean which is today’s Demre in Turkey. St. Nicholas Church that exists today in Demre (Myra) was built around 520 A.D. It was built over the older church where St. Nicholas was bishop and which became the saint’s burial place. St. Nicholas’s corpse remained incorrupt and exuded a fragrant odor of myrrh. For centuries St. Nicholas’s relics were in the cathedral in Myra. In 1087 his relics were moved from Myra to Bari, Italy, where they are today. The sweet myrrh smell that exudes from the saint’s body is said to still take place in 2022. St. Nicholas is an important religious figure for Latin and Eastern Rite Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians. St. Nicholas, who is the historical inspiration for Santa Claus, is the patron saint of children and those in dire need. He is also patron saint of prisoners, the falsely accused and convicted, and travelers. Nicholas is patron saint of Greece, Apulia in Italy, Sicily, and the Lorraine in France. Many miracles have been attributed to St. Nicholas during his lifetime and after his death which caused him to be called “the Miracle or Wonder Worker” of Myra.
Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago, Denis Robert McNamara, James Morris, Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 2005, pp. 114-115
Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, George Lane, S.J., and Algimantas Kezys, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1981, p. 136-137.
Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American Religious Architecture, Jeffrey Howe, Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, California, 2003.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 260.
Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit, Nola Huse Tutage with Lucy Hamilton, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1987.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, pp. 565-567.
Chicago Ceramics & Glass: an Illustrated History from 1871 to 1933, Sharon S. Darling.
Erne R. and Florence Frueh, “Munich Studio Windows at Chicago’s SS. Cyril and Methodius Church,” Stained Glass, (Summer, 1979).
Stained Glass Ecclesiastical Art Figure Windows, catalog issued by The Munich Studio, circa 1915.
Holy Trinity Cathedral was built on a limited budget. It is a small building at 47 x 98 feet situated on an east-west axis. The main body of the church is square with extensions and an octagonal dome above. The picturesque country-church entrance has a metal and wood canopy whose design and ornamentation were created by the architect, Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924). Dedicated in 1903, the church was designated a cathedral in 1923.
The parishioners that built this church were rural people who had emigrated from southern Russia near the Ukraine as well as the area of the Carpathian Mountains.
The Eastern Orthodox central plan creates an interior where the congregation stands in a square space topped by an octagonal dome. For Easter services and the like, the cathedral is filled to capacity with parishioners and others spilling out the front door with its decorative canopy onto the public sidewalk.
The stenciled artwork is not by Louis H. Sullivan.
Louis H. Sullivan designed the bell tower (above and below) with its ornamentation and eaves and soffits for Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.
The walls of the church building are load-bearing brick covered with stucco. The bell tower and octagonal belfry, dome, and roof are made of wood with metal trim and latticework.
Louis H. Sullivan designed the portal canopy and its ornamentation such as the fretwork (above). He also designed the window frames (example below).
The church building was completed for around $27,000 in 1903 (approximately $1 million in 2022) with Sullivan donating half his commission to the church project.
Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, George Lane, S.J., and Algimantas Kezys, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1981, p. 106-107.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 260.
Feature image: Detail of St. Anne and the child Virgin Mary Window in St. Francis Xavier Church in Wilmette, illinois. The stained glass in the 1939 church building was designed by Henry Schmidt.
The building of an English Gothic-style church is usually associated with establishment mainline Protestants. Such was the attempt by Roman Catholics to fit in unobtrusively and harmonize with its well-maintained residential neighborhood in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb on Chicago’s Northshore. Erected in 1939, it is a church built to be sophisticated and simple. 12/2018 11.6mb
Built by the firm of McCarthy, Smith & Eppig, St. Francis Xavier Church is built in the style of a sturdy country church. It is characterized by low walls, massive external buttresses, and a sloped, elongated roof. 6/2014 4.64mb
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the Wilmette parish church’s patron and namesake, is depicted in a marble statue at the entrance of the sanctuary. Holding a crucifix, the priest is dressed in a black cassock draped by an alb and stole. St. Francis Xavier was a Basque Jesuit priest who ultimately became in the mid16th century the leading Roman Catholic missionary to the Far East. In his sheer audacity, St. Francis Xavier established a template of the Jesuit missionary and evangelizer – prayerful, prepared to go where the need is greatest, friendly, sincere, personally austere, hard-working, and joyful in the adventure of doing God’s will. St. Francis Xavier, along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), was named co-patron of all foreign missions in 1927 by Pope Pius XI (reign, 1922-1939) (see –
Leaving by ship from Lisbon, Portugal, St. Francis Xavier was the first Jesuit missionary to India (in 1545) and, later, to Japan (in 1549). For the remainder of the 16th century, the Jesuit Order was the only Roman Catholic missionaries in Asia. The distances St. Francis Xavier traveled in the middle of the 16th century is remarkable. On his return trip to India from Japan – almost 6000 km by air from India – St. Francis Xavier’s ship, thrown off course in a sea storm, stopped at an island near Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. Once back in India, St. Francis Xavier was eager to return to China. After some delays, he reached Shangchuan Island just miles from the mainland. On December 3, 1552, as he waited for transport from the island into mainland China, 46-year-old St. Francis Xavier died from fever. He was buried on Shangchuan in quicklime. The chemical compound was used in burials so to consume the flesh to leave only the bones for easier transport of bodily remains. Yet, when the saint’s body was exhumed in February 1553 for transport to Portuguese Malacca, it was intact. Before year’s end, in December 1553, Xavier’s body was taken to Goa, the saint’s base for his Far East missionary work where it received a hero’s welcome. Today St. Francis Xavier is buried in Goa’s basilica. Reports of miracles were soon made in India, Japan and beyond. St. Francis Xavier was beatified in 1619 by Pope Paul V and canonized on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. 6/2014 4.05 mb
Nave looking towards the main altar. There are no columns to obstruct the view to a marble altar with a crucifix above it. Originally the tabernacle was on the main altar below the crucifix. With Vatican II reforms, it was removed and set to the side (on right). The extra-wide altar rail with cross legs whose form served the function of a communicant “being at table with Christ” was also removed after 1962. Though St. Francis Xavier Church is traditional in its architecture, its design elements are imbued with a modern, chic, formally streamlined sensibility, which has helped make the sanctuary flexible and adaptable to change. The ceiling is constructed like an upside barque- evoking the ones used by the co-patron of foreign missions, St. Francis Xavier, on his extensive journeys by sea to and in the Far East. 6/2014 5.99 mb
There are 8 major stained-glass windows in St. Francis Xavier Church: four in the west wall and four in the east wall. Other, smaller stained-glass oculi and panels are scattered throughout the interior. These stained-glass windows were designed by Henry Schmidt, a parishioner. They are quite beautiful, scintillating in their pseudo-English Tudor style, illumined in usually soft eastern and tree-obscured western exposures, although their subject matter is somewhat chaotic and a hodge-podge in its traditional and idiosyncratic admixture of hagiography, scripture, and popular piety. One aspect of their enduring appeal is that the glass can be seen close up and at eye level.
ST. PETER WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: Saint Peter, leader of the apostles, holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19). Peter also holds a book, a representation that alludes to St. Peter’s New Testament writings (1 and 2 Peter) and sermons (Acts). Below is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in Rome with its famous dome. LEFT PANEL: Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven by the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). From the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431, the practice of depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a regal crown came into use in Christendom. RIGHT PANEL: The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is not mentioned in the New Testament though there are biblical texts used to point to the doctrine of Mary as Theotokos, or Mother of God, taken (“Assumed”) into heaven, body and soul at death. The imagery of going “up” to heaven is related to Jesus’ Ascension insofar as being figurative to express the spiritual. The phenomenon of Assumption is not unprecedented in the Bible. It occurred in the Old Testament with Moses and Elijah who were pivotally important Old Testament figures and who were present at Christ’s Transfiguration in the New Testament (Matt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-10: Lk 9:28-36; and 2 Peter 1:16-21). Below the panels are identical angel figures. 6/2014 4.98 mb
ST. BONIFACE WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Boniface (675-754) is the St. Patrick of Germany. He was a bishop who lived during Europe’s Dark Ages. Boniface was responsible for organizing the church in western Germany and established the bishoprics of Cologne and Mainz. On direction by the pope, Boniface anointed Pepin the short (714-768) – the son of Charles Martel (c. 688-741) and father of Charlemagne (747-814) – as king of the Franks. This was the beginnings of the modern European states and Pepin’s coronation became the model for future royal coronations. LEFT PANEL: Jesus meets his mother is the fourth station of the cross. The Holy Face, below, is a devotion proclaimed by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. RIGHT PANEL: Jesus mocked and crowned with thorns (Luke 22:63-65 and John 19:2-3) is the sixth station of the cross and an important marker of the suffering of Jesus. 6/2014 3.93 mb
ST. PATRICK WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Patrick (418-493) is one of the patron saints of Ireland. The Emerald isle’s two other patron saints are St. Brigid (c. 451–525) and St. Columba (540-615). Whereas St. Joseph Church in Wilmette was established in 1847 for German-speaking immigrants, St. Francis Xavier Church had Irish roots. The depiction of Patrick as an archetypal Irishman — the bearded bishop dressed in green with miter and staff – emerged in the late 18th century. St. Patrick’s symbology includes a book – a reference to the Holy Scriptures as well as ancient writings accepted as authentically his: the Confessio and the Epistola to Coroticus, both in Latin. He holds a 3-leafed clover which legend says was used to teach the Irish people about the Holy Trinity. Below is the harp which is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world and Ireland’s national emblem. LEFT PANEL: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:17). His empty tomb is proof of Christ’s deity (John 5:26; Romans 1:4). By rising from the dead, Jesus Christ saved us from our sins (Romans 4:24–25; Hebrews 7:25), gave hope for our own future resurrection (John 14:19; 1 Corinthians 15:20–23), and provides believers with spiritual power today (Romans 6:3–4; Ephesians 1:19–21).The window depicts the resurrected Jesus holding the banner of victory over death as a Roman guard cowers in the dazzling light of a Risen Christ with an angel in attendance. Christ’s cruciform halo (elaborated in three parts) usually contains three Greek letters that in translation spell out “I Am Who Am,” a reference to Christ’s Divinity. Though all four gospels contain passages pertaining to the resurrection, none describe the moment of resurrection itself. RIGHT PANEL: The crucifixion of Jesus with his mother Mary and John the Apostle at the foot of the cross. Above Christ’s head are the letters INRI. It is an acronym for Jesus Nazarenus, rex Judæorum, the charge against jesus written in Latin by Pontius Pilate who condemned him to death. It translates as “Jesus (the) Nazarene, King of the Jews.” This title appears in the Passion narrative of John’s Gospel (19:19). Below each side panel are identical angel figures. 7/2014 7.58 mb
The altar design includes tall candlesticks and compact, detailed baldacchino. 6/2014 4.61 mb
St. Francis Xavier Church was designed by McCarthy, Smith & Eppig, a design firm that worked extensively with Chicago Cardinal George Mundelein (1872-1939) in the 1930s. Its lead architect, Joseph W. McCarthy (1884-1965), had been a young architect under Daniel Burnham (1846-1912). McCarthy later built, in his own name and with sundry firms, many churches and ecclesial structures in the Chicago area in the 1910s, ‘20s and ‘30s. McCarthy not only built St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in 1939 but also the new, grand St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wilmette about one mile to the west. St. Francis Xavier Church’s design was mostly the work of the younger partners, David Smith and Arthur Eppig (1909-1982). The building’s simple architecture with its fine details cost $200,000 to construct in 1939. This is about $4 million in 2022 (see- https://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/). Most of McCarthy’s church buildings were built in Chicago and its environs although some of his high-profile churches extended to the cathedral church of Springfield, Illinois (1928) and the parish church (1918) of what later became the bishop’s seat in Joliet, Illinois. 7/2014 5.85 mb
A depiction of the crucifixion in basswood stands atop a rood beam at the ceiling line above the main altar. The scene includes the figure of a crucified Jesus, half-naked, wearing a crown of thorns, and the INRI inscription overhead. Three figures at the foot of the cross are (at left) his mother Mary and (at right) John, the Apostle. The bowed middle figure could represent the other named and unnamed women present at the crucifixion (John 19:25; Luke 23:27 and 49). The artwork is by Fritz Mullhauser. 12/2018 8.47 mb
MARY QUEEN OF HEAVEN WITH INFANT JESUS WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: The Queen of Heaven who reigns in heaven from the right hand of her son, is depicted in her role as mother of Jesus Christ. Below is a crown hovering above what may be a heart-shaped letter ‘M” for Mary’s name or her sacred heart. LEFT PANEL: The Presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph in the Temple and the meeting with Simeon, the “just and devout” man of Jerusalem (Luke 2:25–35). The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. In Luke, 40 days after Jesus’s birth, his parents took the newborn to the Temple in Jerusalem to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, as prescribed by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 12 and Exodus 13:12-15). RIGHT PANEL: The nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem (Luke 2: 1-7 and Matthew 1: 18-25) is the third joyful mystery of the rosary. Below each side panel are identical Angel figures. 12/2018 12.5 mb
ST. ANNE AND THE CHILD VIRGIN MARY WINDOW. CENTER PANEL: The child Mary with her mother, Saint Anne. Nothing is known for certain about the mother of the Virgin Mary. Early apocryphal writings provide information for stories about Mary’s parentage and early life that have resulted in a beautiful legendary tradition. LEFT PANEL: Depiction of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-45). Immediately following the Annunciation, Mary set out into the hill country to stay in the house of Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah for three months. Both women were miraculously pregnant at the time–Mary with Jesus by virgin birth and Elizabeth in her old age with John the Baptist. The scene depicts the moment when John the Baptist leaped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing Mary’s voice (Luke 1:41). The Visitation is the second joyful mystery of the rosary. Below is an ark (or tabernacle). Luke structured his narrative passages of the Visitation on stories in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings about the ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant (2276): “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God . . . with men”. RIGHT PANEL: A depiction of the Annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Son of God, Jesus Christ. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” The episode is marked by Mary’s joyful acceptance of God’s will – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:26-38). This is the beginning of the Incarnation when the Son of God takes on His human nature. The Annunciation is the first joyful mystery of the rosary. Below, there are two different angel figures. 12/2018 16.24 mb
ST. JOSEPH WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Joseph was the foster father of Jesus and served as Jesus’ guardian and protector. His symbology includes his holding a carpenter’s square to show he was a carpenter (Mt 13:55). He also holds a white lily to symbolize his faithfulness and chastity to Mary (MT 1: 25) and his holiness and obedience to God (Mt 1:24; Mt 2:14,21,22). An angel figure Is below St. Joseph. LEFT PANEL: The Holy Family in Nazareth. Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph and “progressed steadily in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Lk 2:52). Since Jesus was instructed by St. Joseph in the carpenter trade, the child holds a small wooden cross on his knees. The flowering grass below may be simply decorative or could indicate the flowering staff of St. Joseph which symbolized that Joseph was especially chosen by God to be Mary’s husband. That imagery was drawn from the Old Testament when Aaron’s staff, placed before the Ten Commandments, sprouted with almond blossoms as a sign that he was chosen by God (Num 17:22-23). RIGHT PANEL: Mary and St. Joseph find the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple with the doctors of the Law (Luke 2:41-52). The event is the fifth joyful mystery of the rosary. It is the only time in the New Testament Jesus makes a public appearance during his first 30 years of life prior to His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist and the start of his public ministry (Matthew 3:3-17, Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23; John 1:29-33). Below the scene are the tablets of the Ten Commandments with a symbol of the Trinity, including the sacred eye, hovering above. 12/2018 12.34 mb
ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE WINDOW.
CENTER PANEL: St. Paul is depicted holding a sword, a common symbol for the Apostle to the Gentiles. Describing spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Further, in the symbology of martyrs, those saints are traditionally depicted with the instrument of their death. Although Paul’s martyrdom is known (somewhere between 64 and 68 A. D.), its method and circumstances are not. Early Christian writers related that Paul was beheaded using a sword. LEFT PANEL: The Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-13) followed the Ascension where the 12 Apostles with Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, gathered together and received the Holy Spirit symbolized by a dove from Heaven. RIGHT PANEL: the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is mentioned several times in the New Testament though primarily in Luke and Acts (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1: 6-12, John 3:13, John 6:62, John 20:17, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:19-20, Colossians 3:1, Philippians 2:9-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:21-22). The Ascension is an event where the Resurrected Christ physically departed from Earth by rising into Heaven which, following Judas’s betrayal, was witnessed by eleven of his apostles. Heaven incorporates the resurrected fleshly body of Christ as the divine humanity of Christ enters into the intimacy of the Father and becomes the perfect God-Man. 6/2014 4.28 mb
WINDOW DETAIL An angel figure graces one of the stained-glass windows in St. Francis Xavier Church. There are several different angel figures throughout the church’s stained glass panels.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD WINDOW
CENTER PANEL: Jesus called himself “the good shepherd” (John 10). In the Old Testament there is a prophecy about shepherds who are overseers for the sheep who are the people of God. Ezekiel also prophesies of another shepherd to come who is the Messiah of Israel. Jesus, by calling himself the good shepherd, is claiming to be the Messiah that the scriptures foretold. Christ’s cruciform halo (elaborated in three parts) usually contains three Greek letters that in translation spell out “ I Am Who Am,” a reference to Christ’s Divinity. Jesus holds the shepherd’s staff and has a lamb slung over his shoulders referring to the people of God he cares for. Below is a lamb in a bramble referring to Jesus as “the lamb of God” a title for Jesus found in the Gospel of John (1:29; 1:36). It also alludes to the Old Testament when God sent a ram caught in a bramble to change places with Isaac who God called to be sacrificed as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:13). This Old Testament story foretold the sacrifice of the Son of God at Calvary. LEFT PANEL: The scourging of Christ is the 4th station of the cross (John 19:1-3). It is part of the brutalities that Jesus endured in his Passion. Jesus was slapped, beaten, punctured by thorns, and whipped with a reed stick. Two of these instruments of torture are depicted below the pillar. Below that is an angel figure. RIGHT PANEL: Jesus is depicted in the garden of Gethsemane following the Last Supper where, knowing of Judas’s betrayal, Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). With his prayer, “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43). At the foot of the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem all four Gospels relate that Jesus underwent an agony in the garden of Gethsemane where he was betrayed and arrested the night before his crucifixion. Below the scene is an angel figure. 12/2018 12.6 mb
Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago, Denis Robert McNamara, James Morris, Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, Illinois, 2005, pp. 138-140
Chicago Churches and Synagogues: An Architectural Pilgrimage, George Lane, S.J., and Algimantas Kezys, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1981.
Saint Ignatius and His First Companions, Chas. Constantine Pise, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1892, pp.105-151.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.
The New American Bible, Catholic Book Publishing Corp, New York, 1993.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, Doubleday, New York, 1997.
In addition-to above –
St. Francis Xavier statue –
St. Patrick Window –
Basswood crucifix –
Queen of Heaven Window –
Sts. Anne and Mary Window –
St. Joseph Window-
St. Paul The Apostle Window –
The Good Shepherd Window –
Organ loft. St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette, IL. 12/2018 446 kb 25%
The Iron Block at 205 East Wisconsin Avenue on the corner of busy Water and Wisconsin in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was erected in 1861. The architect was George H. Johnson (1830-1879) of New York City and is a landmark of special architectural significance. The featured photograph of the Iron Block in this post was taken in September 2016.
The Iron Block’s entire façade is composed of cast iron and is a direct connection to the age of mass production and prefabrication, and high-end craftsmanship that characterized mid19th century industry from the railroad to the skyscraper. Erected during the first shots of the U.S. Civil War, the Iron Block is an integral part of the mechanized culture which the Industrial Revolution had thrust upon all aspects of modern society – from the workplace to the battlefield – to increasingly mark the age.
The Iron Block’s neo-Renaissance decoration is superbly delineated so to make for a cutting-edge Civil War-era grandiose building that is stylistically stunning and that has been renewed in and for the 21st century. The Northern Italian mode of the Renaissance Revival style first appeared in the United States around 1850 and is markedly displayed in the Iron Block’s sculptural ornament of lion heads and serpentine vines manifested in powerful contrasts of natural light and shadow.
When the Iron Block (originally Excelsior Building) was built in mid19th-century Milwaukee, it was the largest office building in the city. Today’s Iron Block is actually two buildings built next to one another about 40 years apart. Faced in brick, the southern annex was completed in 1899 and brought under one roof with the original 1861 building. Where the addition to the south meets the original 1861 building, there is an atrium with a skylight. A glass floor in the lobby which once allowed natural light into the basement is now gone.
Some of the Iron Block’s first commercial tenants were a bank, several stores, numerous offices, and a legal library. Cast-iron structures proved quintessentially functional for manufacturers, warehouses and office use.
The Iron Block building was financed and built by James B. Martin (1814-1878), a businessman and Baltimore native, who relocated to Milwaukee in the mid1840s. Martin established an early mill, for a short time a successful bank, traded on the grain and livestock futures markets, and bought and sold real estate. In 1849 Martin constructed “Martin’s Block” and, on the downtown real estate Martin purchased in 1860, built Iron Block.
The Iron Block building sat less than a half mile from Martin’s former downtown mansion at 742 N. Jackson where the proprietor of the Reliance Flouring Mills (1869-1878) and president of the Wisconsin State Bank in Milwaukee (1866-1868) is recorded to have once lived from 1852 to 1858.
George H. Johnson was the chief designer for the foundry, metallurgy, and iron construction business of Daniel D. Badger (1806-1884) who had relocated from Boston to New York City in 1848. Badger established Architectural Iron Works, on Manhattan’s East 14th Street. With James Bogardus (1800-1874), Badger was a pioneer in the prefabrication and use of cast-iron building technology. In 1848 James Bogardus had built the world’s first prefabricated cast iron building in Manhattan. George H. Johnson had emigrated from England in 1852 and went on in the 1850s and 1860s to design iron-fronted buildings in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, and elsewhere, including Milwaukee’s Iron Block.
The Iron Block is Milwaukee’s only surviving cast-iron-fronted building and may be the last surviving example of this construction type in Wisconsin. In New York City—the origin of cast iron materials that came to Milwaukee—there remain about 250 such building types in Manhattan alone. More specific to the Iron Block, the Cary Building in Lower Manhattan (105–107 Chambers Street) designed by King & Kellum and completed in 1857 could have been an inspiration for the Milwaukee building’s own design and appearance.
The Iron Block has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Dental Associates purchased the building as its Wisconsin headquarters in January 2012. Using private funds, the building underwent extensive and detailed reconstructive work that was completed in 2014. This multi-year restoration earned Dental Associates the 2014 “Cream of the Cream City” award from the City of Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Common Council and the Mayor. Although the Iron Block had local designation and National Register status, the building had begun to rust and its architectural details, replicated in substitute materials during a 1983 renovation, were deteriorated with its ornament falling off the building. The 2014 renovation accurately recreated the heritage building’s missing details.
In consultation with historical design experts, patterns and molds were created from historic photographs and pieces of the original building. Over 4,200 new pieces were cast in Wisconsin foundries. Some weighed ounces; others, such as columns at the original entrance on Water Street, weighed over 1,200 pounds. The entire iron façade was sandblasted down to raw steel and a paint system was used to chemically bond with the iron surfaces. A new cornice and pediments were molded from fiberglass-reinforced polyester to match originals. The 1899 south addition was stripped of its paint to reveal the Cream City brick. The renovated building was unveiled on June 17, 2013 and completely finished in 2014.
The interior of the building is made of brick and timber with three-foot thick load-bearing walls. The façade is made of entirely prefabricated cast-iron modules that were bolted together to give the appearance of a sixteenth-century Venetian palazzo. Piers, columns, beams, and spandrels were all cast in a foundry. During various renovations, the original ground floor had been removed and the cornice diminished. The elevator installed in 1879 is still in use. The relatively lighter interior supporting columns allowed for spacious rooms and floorplans and for optimum daylight through expansive window openings. While possibly more fireproof than other materials, in a serious fire cast iron warped and even collapsed.
After the building’s timber and brick underlying structure was in place—the foundation is composed of inverted semi-circular arches of brick between courses of stone whose function worked to reinforce walls and distribute vertical load over a greater area—its prefab iron modules— numbered and ordered to their location on the building’s façade—were bolted into place following transport to the site by horse and wagon. Starting at the ground floor and going up its five floors, the assembly of the façade (painted creamy white) was erected quickly compared to the construction of the underlying structure.
Decoration included fluted Corinthian columns, pediments, dentils, balustrades, and series of bas-relief ovals alternating with narrow, pointed carvings. Spandrels and piers were made to look like stone blocks with lion heads glaring downwards. Since cast iron was easier to install and maintain than stone facing, owners and builders could create their own façade designs by selecting from catalogs of cast iron architectural elements.
SOURCES: Milwaukee Architecture: A Guide to Notable Buildings, Joseph Korom, Madison, WI: Prairie Oak Press, 1995.
The Heritage Guidebook (Landmarks and Historical Sites in Southeastern Wisconsin), Russell Zimmermann, Heritage Banks, Inland Heritage Corp., 1976.
Source book of American architecture: 500 notable buildings, G.E. Kidder Smith, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
The Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago’s Loop – since renamed the James M. Nederlander Theatre – first opened as the Oriental Theatre on May 8, 1926.
The Oriental Theatre, designed by the architectural firm of Cornelius Ward Rapp (1861-1926) and George Leslie Rapp (1878-1941) was one of the many ornate movie palaces built, as its name implied, in a style inspired by a Western fantasia of India and South Asian themes and motifs.
Rapp & Rapp, alumni of the University of Illinois School of Architecture, designed scores of theatres across the country in the first decades of the 20th century. In Chicago the architectural firm notably designed State Street’s Chicago Theatre (1921) as well as the Bismarck Hotel and Theatre (1926). They built the Paramount Theatres in New York City (1926) in Times Square and in Aurora, Illinois (1931). In the mid1990s, after the Oriental Theatre had been closed and shuttered for more than a decade, it underwent a multi-million-dollar restoration and expansion by Daniel P. Coffey & Associates. The Oriental Theatre reopened as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1998.
In the 1920s, the Oriental Theatre presented both movies and vaudeville acts. When talkies arrived, the Oriental Theatre became predominantly a movie house in the 1930s. Live stage, theatrical, and concert performances also continued for mid20th century Chicago audiences during an era when Randolph Street and its environs was a mecca for crowds seeking out their favorite star performers as well as up-and-coming talents throughout a host of live entertainment venues. The former Oriental Theatre, following its expansion in 1998, now seats over 2,000 people.
Duke Ellington and his orchestra made frequent appearances at the Oriental Theatre which welcomed patrons by way of an exotic ornate style. Some big names and legends in entertainment who were seen at the Oriental Theatre included Judy Garland, George Jessel, Fanny Brice, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Jean Harlow, Billie Holiday, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Frank Sinatra, Sophie Tucker, Sarah Vaughan, Henny Youngman, and many more.
The Oriental Theatre closed in 1981 and remained shuttered for over a decade. In 1997 it was renamed the Ford Center for the Performing Arts with its restoration and expansion completed the following year. In 2019 the theatre was renamed in honor of James M. Nederlander (1922-2016), Broadway theatre owner/producer and Broadway In Chicago founder.
Today’s James M. Nederlander Theatre hosts touring pre-Broadway and Broadway shows whose résumé included a long-running production of Billy Elliot: The Musical. From June 2005 through January 2009, the theater housed a full production of Wicked, making it the most popular stage production in Chicago history. In December 2017, when the feature photograph was taken, a traveling national tour of Wicked had started its Chicago run.
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 54.
FEATURE image: Comedy scenes according to Molière (Lustspielszenen nach Molière), wallpaper, c. 1825-1830, Deutsches Tapetenmuseum, Kassel, Germany.
Molière was born into a well-to-do family on January 15, 1622 at Rue St. Honoré and grew up near the Bastille at Rue Saint-Antoine in Paris. The greatest genius of the French theater was baptized at St. Eustache as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He adopted the stage name of Molière in the mid1640s after he founded his first theater troupe.
A type of Shakespeare of France – profound theater actor, writer and poet – Molière’s characters and wit are timeless – such as in Tartuffe (1664), Don Juan (1665), and The Misanthrope (1666).
Romain Duris as Molière and Laura Morante as Elmire
French actor Romain Duris as Molière and Italian actress Laura Morante as Elmire in a scene from the 2007 movie “Molière.”
The fictional film is told in flashback to 1645. It is a conflation of two different periods in Molière’s life into one earlier period. Indeed, in 1645, 23-year-old bachelor Molière was bailed out of debtor’s prison. When his great, most controversial play, Tartuffe, appeared in the mid1660s, Molière was married and much older.
For the film, a presumably historical Molière poses as “Monsieur Tartuffe” (a priest) who serves as tutor for Orgon’s children. In real life, Molière played a part in his play, “Tartuffe,” but as the householder and trusting husband, Orgon. In the film, young Molière as Tartuffe, similar to the play, falls in love with Elmire, the neglected wife of the household.
In this scene Molière delivers a letter to Elmire from her secret admirer which, unknown to her, was written by the debonaire M. Tartuffe (Duris as young Molière).
Whereas in the present day any type of true romance may be heart-warming, the 17th century viewed romance through a lens of means and ends, either of which could be scandalous.
Molière’s great plays Don/m Juan and Tartuffe were halted in their tracks by French religious and royal authorities who were concerned that their characters and plots would provoke popular scandal. In the mid1660s, the Archbishop of Paris condemned Molière’s work – and nearly the libertine Molière himself – and then turned to the highest state authority, the king, with whom the top bishop was privileged to be closely aligned, to carry out the sentence.
“But I ought to warn you, strictly between the pair of us, that in Don Juan my master you see the greatest scoundrel that ever walked on Earth. He is a madman, a dog, a devil, a Turk. He is a heretic who believes in neither Heaven, nor saint, nor God, nor the bogeyman. He lives the life of an absolute brute beast. He is an Epicurean hog, a regular Sardanapalus who is deaf to every Christian remonstrance, and looks on all that we others believe as nothing but old wives’ tales. You say he has married your mistress. He would have done far more than that to gratify his desires. He would have married you, and her dog and cat as well. It costs him nothing to marry. That is the best baited trap he has.” – Sganarelle, servant of Don Juan, played by Molière. From Don Juan (1665).
“Oh, you scoundrel! At last I see you as you really are. But, unhappily, the knowledge comes too late; and it can only serve to drive me to desperation. But, be sure, your villainy will not remain unpunished. The Heaven you mock will avenge me for your faithlessness.“ – Donna Elvira, wife of Don Juan, played by Madmoiselle du Parc. From Don Juan (1665).
“Constancy is only fit for idiots.” – Don Juan, played by La Grange. From Don Juan (1665).
“You see him as a saint. … I see right through him. He’s a fraud.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 1, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).
“It’s true – those whose private conduct is the worst,/Will mow each other down to be the first/To weave some tale of lust, and hearts broken/Out of a simple kiss that’s just a token/Between friends.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 1, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).
“See, I revere/Everyone whose worship is sincere./Nothing is more noble or beautiful/Than fervor that is holy, not just dutiful.“ – Cléante, played by La Thorillière, Act I, Scene 4. From Tartuffe (1664).
“What good would it do to dissent? A father’s power is great.” – Mariane, played by Mlle de Brie, Act 2, Scene 3. From Tartuffe (1664).
“Don’t be deceived by hollow shows; / I’m far … from being what men suppose.“ – Tartuffe, played by Du Croisy, Act 3, Scene 6. From Tartuffe (1664).
“There’ll be no sins for which we must atone,/Because evil only exists when it’s known.” – Tartuffe, played by Du Croisy, Act 4, Scene 5. From Tartuffe (1664).
“Ah! Ah! You are a traitor and a liar!/Some holy man you are, to wreck my life, / Marry my daughter? Lust after my wife?” – Orgon, played by Molière, Act 4, Scene 7. From Tartuffe (1664).
“Damn all holy men! They’re filled with deceit!/I now renounce them all, down to the man.” – Orgon, played by Molière, Act 5, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).
“All that we most revere, he uses/To cloak his plots and camouflage his ruses.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 5, Scene 7. From Tartuffe (1664).
For Molière, the Ancien Régime was not yet dead as a doornail. The American and French Revolutions were a distant century in the future. The latest risk in the late 20th and early 21st centuries of the Apostolic church selling its religion for parts in exchange for a share at the table of the new global faith was not yet a necessary strategy for a powerfully splendorous, yet ever troubled, church in 17th century France.
While “mixing it up” in politics may be the Catholic church’s normal path, it was the irreligious observations of its outcomes in human life in the 17th century that proved a major theme in Molière’s wittiest dramas and brought him into trouble. While the young King Louis XIV (1638-1715) approved orders that banned some of Molière’s farces, the royal personage expressed his reluctance to do so. It had been the priests who were stung by Molière’s popular ridicule with its social danger of being overthrown by comic truths. Their well-connected desires to cancel Molière proved only partly successful in the mid17th century–and, soon after that, hardly at all.
PHOTO credit: “King Louis XIV, 1638-1715 / Roi Louis XIV, 1638-1715” by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is marked with CC BY 2.0.
Writers of 17th Century French Literature
The 17th century continued the wealth of French literature in its many genres – poetry (Malherbe; La Fontaine; Boileau); novels and fairy tales (Cyrano de Bergerac; Perrault); essays (Pascal; La Rochefoucauld; La Bruyère); philosophy (Descartes); theology (St. Francis de Sales; Fénelon; Bossuet) and drama (Corneille; Racine; and Molière), and many others.
Molière’s Comedy – Wit And Types
Molière wrote based on actual facts of society and human nature and, using ludicrous incidents, looked straight ahead to a moral purpose – his plays were very instructive and had all the makings of high comedy. Further to attract us, Molière is the premier dramatist of wit.
His characters are not individuals but types – which allows for perhaps greater intensity than complexity. Though the French are not as known for comedy, the form is mostly indigenous, contrasted to tragedy as a dramatic form which came out of Italy.
The City of Paris Plays a Role
Paris is a theatrical city. Similar to today’s Beaubourg, there were outdoor performances at the Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine. The Hotel de Bourgogne on Rue Etienne Marcel was used in the 16th century by the Confraternité de la Passion for passion plays. In the mid1620s when America was a wilderness there would be street parades of comedians in Paris to lure spectators into the theatre. Stock farce characters included Aurlupin (mean spirited school teacher), Gros Guillaume (dressed in a flour sack), and Captain Fracasse (break things). At the permanent flea market of St. Germain de Prés, spectacles were put on stage. Goods were sold, some of it junk, because, as Daumier observed, “people are always fooled.”
Molière’s mother died when he was 10 years old and he was raised by a nurse maid. In his later plays there are often such maids and servant girls.
In Paris, three rival theatre groups coexisted: that of the Marais; that of the Hôtel de Bourgogne; and, that of the Palais-Royal, directed by Molière. After Molière’s death, the actors of the Marais joined Molière’s troupe of actors by royal order. This new troupe settles at the Hotel Guénégaud, rue Mazarine.
François de La Thorillière was Molière’s companion and kept the register of the company during the 1663/1664 and 1664/1665 seasons. He moved to the Hôtel de Bourgogne after Molière’s death. In 1680 La Thorillière, head of the troupe of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the last rival in Paris of Molière’s former troupe, died. The King ordered these two troupes of French actors established in Paris to play together going forward.
On August 25, 1680, the actors of the Hotel de Bourgogne and that of the Hotel Guénégaud – Molière’s former troupe now led by La Grange – gave their first joint performance.
On October 21, 1680, an official royal letter signed at Versailles, established the unique troupe, composed of 27 actors and actresses chosen by the King for their excellence, to have a monopoly of performances in French so to “make performances of comedies more perfect.” The repertoire includes Corneille, Molière, Racine, Jean Rotrou, Paul Scarron, and others.
Molière Schools in Paris and Orléans
Molière was a commuter student at the Collège de Clermont behind the Sorbonne. Founded in the 1560s by the Jesuits who had a tremendous hold on educating the young in this period, it was renamed Lycée Louis-le-Grand in the 1680s. Nobility and the well-to-do bourgeois schooled together though segregated by a so-called “golden barrier” of identity – an illiberal, reactionary practice. Molière received a strict, excellent education and was a Latinist. He went to Orléans to study law but didn’t pursue it. His father sent him to Narbonne to be a royal tapestry maker (the family business) but Molière was idealistic and chose to be in theater. Following his bliss, twenty-something Molière – around the time of the film scene – was close to penniless for the next 15 years.
Following the queen of the sciences (theology), cultural authorities officially ordered the boycott of theater as immoral. But the people in Paris mostly ignored these bought-and-paid-for kill joys of church and state and the theater life thrived.
Molière’s first theater production flops; bailed out of debtor’s prison by a street contractor
By the 17th century the Renaissance social fad of tennis had faded away and Molière rented empty courts for the theater. He joined Madeliene Béjart, four years older, and from a family of actors, and established his first theater in June 1643 called the Illustre Théâtre (“Illustrious Theater”). The first performances in the tennis court featuring the 22-year-old Molière and the others opened on January 1, 1644.
To build the theater, Molière fell into debt in 1644. The first performances were a complete flop and Molière was thrown into debtor’s prison for 3 days in July 1645.
There were two official theatre troupes in Paris in the mid 1640s– and Molière’s Illustre Théâtre was not one of them. The troupe did have a royal protector or sponsor, the king’s brother. But financial help was not to be had from Gaston d’Orléans (1608-1660). Rather, a paving contractor paid the bail to release the young actor/writer, a remarkable historical fact. Molière’s first theater was auctioned off with proceeds going to his creditors.
In 1646 Molière and Mme. Béjart joined a troupe led by Charles Dufresne (1611-1684). They relocated to the provinces, specifically to the west at Nantes and south. Success as an actor had been fleeting and Molière was very close to returning to his father’s business as a tapestry maker. Molière, like his fellow actors, could afford to wear only his street clothes on stage – or vice versa. Molière was part of just one theatre troupe among about 1,000 in France.
Others of the defunct Illustre Théâtre joined Molière in 1648. Dufresne handed over the direction of the troupe to Molière in 1650. He rechristened the troupe Comédiens de SAR le prince de Conti. The prince de Conti (1629-1666), fifth in line to the French throne, was Molière’s patron and friend. At the domaine de la Grange des Prés at Pézenas in Languedoc, the prince and the actor-playwright discussed plays and theater.
In the 1650s, Molière’s troupe became moderately successful performing all over the Mediterranean in France. Though Molière kept a notebook to record his ideas and character types these personal items have been lost to history.
The prince de Conti, Languedoc governor, was the king’s cousin, and, upon marrying Anne-Marie Martinozzi (1637-1672) in 1654, an in-law of sorts to Cardinal Mazarin (Anne-Marie was Mazarin’s niece). The prince di Conti, however, lived with his mistress at Pézenas among Molière’s free-spirited actors. In 1655 the prince, being engaged in military campaigns in Spain and experiencing failing health, had a religious awakening. He discarded the mistress, returned to his wife and banished the theatre. Molière was suddenly cancelled.
Allowance of theater in society based on moral grounds would continue to evolve – though audiences always enjoyed its entertainment value. Finding a need and filling it, Molière sold drama as morality (and vice versa) and using dialogue and plot that cut things close to the bone.
Armande Béjart was in Molière’s troupe in 1653 under the name of Mademoiselle Menou and played child roles. Married to Molière in 1662, she was the inspiration for all his heroines: the Princess of Élide, Charlotte, Célimène, Lucinde, Elmire, Alcmène, Élise, Angélique, Lucile, Hyacinthe, Henriette.
Armande and Molière’s daughter, Madeleine-Esprit, survived but their two sons did not. When Molière died in 1668, Armande encouraged the troupe, led by La Grange.
In 1677 Armande remarried a man not in the theater named Guérin d’Etriché and they had a son. She became Mademoiselle Guérin on stage in the troupe brought together by Louis XIV in 1680 and retired in 1694.
After being cancelled by the prince de Conti who became an implacable enemy of the theater until his death in 1666, the reputation of Molière’s traveling troupe was being critically appreciated at the highest levels. In 1658, the king’s brother, 18-year-old Philippe d’Orléans, le Monsieur (1640-1701), arranged an audition for Molière and his troupe in Paris. The result was that King Louis XIV approved the Troupe de Monsieur to share the royal theater, the Petit-Bourbon. Molière immediately premiered there on November 2, 1658. The troupe soon had to build up its cast and repertoire to meet the Paris audience’s expectations and Molière looked to provide them with original comedies. This was notably effected by the addition of 24-year-old La Grange, who would play young romantic lead roles, in 1659.
Also in 1659, having acquired the king’s favor, Molière set about to write the first of his great works: Précieuses Ridicules. In 1662 he married Madeleine Béjart’s younger sister (possibly daughter), Armande. The king was godfather to their child as Molière now performed at the Palais Royal for the king and royal family. In the next years, Molière wrote plays about marriage, jealousy, and adultery, including The Imaginary Cuckold in 1660; Don Garcie de Navarre and The School for Husbands in 1661; and, a great success, The School for Wives in 1662. Opening in December 1662, by the end of May 1663, audiences filled the theatre to watch The School for Wives, a play whose scheming plot is more straightforward than its characters, in over 60 performances. It was afterward attacked by critics who felt and feigned outrage for its sexual references and irreligiosity, but also, possibly, envy of its newness and blatant success. A flurry of artful broadsides between Molière and the King’s Actors at The Hôtel de Bourgogne followed in pamphlets and on their respective stages.
“People of quality know everything without ever having learned anything.” (Les gens de qualité savent tout sans avoir jamais rien appris.) – Mascarille, played by Molière, Act 1, Scene 8. From Précieuses Ridicules (1659).
“A man’s not simple to take a simple wife. Your wife, no doubt, is a wise, virtuous woman. But brightness, as a rule, is a bad omen. And I know men who’ve undergone much pain because they married girls with too much brain. I want no intellectual, if you please.” – Arnolphe, Act 1, Scene 1. From School For Wives (1662).
“It must be confessed that love is a skillful instructor. It teaches us to be what we never were before. By its lessons a complete change in our manners is often the work of a moment. It overcomes obstacles in our very nature, and its sudden effects seem like miracles. It makes misers liberal in an instant, cowards become heroes, and, dear gentlemen, it turns the most inexperienced mind into a nimble wit, as it gives understanding to the most simple.” – Horace, Act 3, Scene 4. From School For Wives (1662).
The middle 1660s was a high point for Molière’s plays: Tartuffe; Festin de Pierre (Don Juan) and Le Misanthrope were all written in these same two or three years (1664-1666). These greatest comedies of enduring genius, however, were not well received in their days by a mostly obliging audience yet who took governance and religion very seriously. In May 1664, Molière staged the first three acts of his later Tartuffe at Versailles. Called The Hypocrite, the play was immediately banned by Louis XIV. When it opened again in 1667 as The Imposter, it was once more immediately banned. Any further performance – and this extended to its audience – adventured excommunication. It was not until February 1669 that Louis XIV allowed the performance of Tartuffe in its completed five act form. It instantly became the hottest ticket in Paris.
A prosperous man wanting to retain his hard-earned social position and continue to practice his theory of the stage as the layman’s pulpit, Molière in these final years turned toward lighter, innocuous spectacles to teach and entertain French society. In 1665 Don Juan ran for 15 performances though it was censored and its financial proceeds had to benefit the Church.
“I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don’t really mean.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act 1, Scene 1. From The Misanthrope (1666).
“There’s a season for love and another for prudishness, and we may consciously choose the latter when the hey-day of our youth has passed—it may serve to conceal some of life’s disappointments.” – Célimène, played by Armande Béjart-Molière, Act 3, Scene 4. From The Misanthrope (1666).
“I’ll confront her in no uncertain terms with her villainy, confound her utterly, and then bring to you a heart entirely freed from her perfidious charms.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act , Scene . From The Misanthrope (1666).
“The failings of human nature in this life give us opportunities for exercising our philosophy, which is the best use we can put our virtues to. If all men were righteous, all hearts true and frank and loyal, what purpose would most of our virtues serve?” – Philinte, played by La Grange, Act 5, Scene 1. From The Misanthrope (1666).
“You shall observe me push my weakness to its furthest limit and show how wrong it is to call any of us wise and demonstrate that there’s some touch of human frailty in every one of us.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act 5, Scene 4. From The Misanthrope (1666).
At rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris since 1817, Molière was denied a Catholic burial in 1673
The baptized Molière died in 1673 at 51 years old. He was denied a religious burial for the simple fact that he was a theater actor. The traditional wing of the Catholic Church constantly impugned Molière’s work. Educated by the more liberal Jesuits, Molière never renounced his Catholicism, and was probably not an atheist. He was secretly buried in a Catholic cemetery in the section of unbaptized infants. In 1792, during the French Revolution, Molière’s remains were transferred to the museum of French Monuments. In 1817, Molière was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery where he lies today.
Tartuffe disguises himself as a virtuous man and is a hypocrite. As the French celebrate Molière’s 400th birth anniversary they reflect on the relevance of Molière’s drama for today. Some argue that false faces in democracy are just as numerous as those in mid17th century Paris though perhaps in a different way.
Cancel Culture derives from Tartuffe
The cancel culture can be said to derive of Tartuffe. Though not displaying a purely religious hypocrisy as in Molière’s original character, today’s Tartuffe hates the individual heart’s freedoms and hides their will to crack down on people by citing the “common good” or other platitude which usually includes a spectrum of needs and fears. Notions of superiority, duplicity, and simple stupidity are present in Molière’s Tartuffe – that is, the hypocritical type of 350 years ago.
A supposed offense today is paired with Molière’s hypocrite of 350 years ago against a partisan viewpoint of the “higher interest” with its obligations and payments “overdue” to them from which as a penalty and means requires the ban, cancellation, and banishment –yet, almost conveniently, not of one’s fragile self, if opposed. While the perennial distrust of politicians is well known, today’s social breakdown is broader and endemic – with the inflation of hypocrisy a common denominator.
Like a popular play on an outdoor stage in 17th century Paris, hypocrites can be better recognized, fortunately or not, by type. The brittle use of virtue signaling can offer one such type. When it becomes evident that it serves the practicioner’s hidden ends, the audience, assuming its role, heckles and boos such stock farce characters off the stage with gusto.
Though censorship and restrictions of thought and action of others in its many forms is hardly always the result of hypocrisy, hypocrites (whichever side of the fence their belief or opinion may fall) are certain to take the short route to do so.
Molière would have sufficient material today to write and perform another of his great dramas for the 21st century and whose production is under a similar menace of cancellation by such powers grown antagonistic to his content and close or lower the curtain when opportunity is seen to enter.
https://www.gradesaver.com/tartuffe/study-guide/quotes in MLA Format Osborne, Kristen. Cedars, S.R. ed. “Tartuffe Quotes and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 8 January 2013 Web.
Molière, Tartuffe and Other Plays, trans. Donald M. Frame, New York: Signet Classics, 2015.
Molière, The Misanthrope, trans. Henri van Laun (1876), New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992.
George Saintsbury, A Short History French Literature, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901.
FEATURE IMAGE: Detail (top portion) of the East Bronze Door by Italian artist Biagio Governali depicting the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, Chicago.
The four exterior doors of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago – known as The Bronze Doors of the Holy Rosary of Our Salvation – visually narrate the twenty mysteries of the Rosary – the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous mysteries. The East Bronze Door narrates the five Luminous mysteries.
Inspired by the main gate (“Porta del Paradiso”) of the Baptistry of Florence made by Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) between 1425 and 1452 and located in front of Florence’s cathedral, the contemporary bronze doors in Chicago were made by Biagio Governali, native of Corleone, Italy. With the artist following the time-honored methods of bronze relief sculpture used by medieval and Renaissance artists, the doors were dedicated and blessed by Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. (1937-2015), on October 11, 2004.
Our Lady of Pompeii was originally established in Chicago in 1911 as an Italian national parish and is the oldest continuing Italian-American Catholic Church in Chicago. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii was proclaimed in 1994 by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1928-1996) as a place to pray for peace that embraces pilgrims of all faiths. The bronze doors are intended to endure as a herald of the Catholic faith and give homage to the Shrine’s Italian roots.
Pope Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) established the Luminous Mysteries near the end of his almost 27-year pontificate in 2002. About the entire rosary itself the pope said, “To meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary is to look into the face of Christ.”
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia (“The Rosary,” Herbert Thurston and Andrew Shipman, volume 13, Robert Appleton Company), the structure of the rosary including its 15 mysteries (five each for Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious) had been officially unchanged for 500 years – from the 16th to 20th centuries.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II instituted the five Luminous Mysteries. In his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, published on October 16, 2002, the pope marked out 4 broad areas as reasons to pray the rosary:
1. The rosary aids in contemplating Christ with Mary;
2. The rosary aids in contemplating the mysteries of Mary;
3. The rosary is a way of assimilating the mystery of “It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20); and,
4. The rosary is a way of praying for, and arriving at, peace in one’s life, family, neighborhood, and in the world.
In the same letter (Chapter 3), the pope observed that icons and other religious visual images can assist the human imagination to meditate and contemplate upon the mysteries of the Christian faith, particularly those of the rosary. Appealing to the Church’s traditional spirituality as well as that of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) in The Spiritual Exercises, the pope’s exhortation to artistic representations as aiding mental prayer imbues Chicago’s great bronze portals depicting the mysteries of the rosary with the authenticity of standing at the threshold between time and eternity and the sacred and profane.
The pope acknowledged that although all the rosary’s 20 mysteries can be termed “luminous” – that is, pertaining to mysteries of light – the five new Luminous mysteries fill the gap between the infancy and hidden life of Christ (i.e., Joyful) and Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Day (i.e., Sorrowful and Glorious).
The Luminous mysteries present five significant moments from Christ’s public ministry. Each of these mysteries, the pope writes, “is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.” (For more see- https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/2002/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae.html).
1. The Baptism in the Jordan (top, left)
“And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”‘ (Matthew 3:16-17).
2. The Wedding Feast of Cana (top, right)
“On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.”‘ (John 2:1-5).
5. The Institution of the Eucharist (center)
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.”‘ (Matthew 26:26).
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (bottom, left)
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).
4. The Transfiguration (bottom, right)
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-2).