FEATURE Image: Signage of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago. The church is known as “the birthplace of Gospel music” since Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) started his first modern gospel choir here in 1931. Author’s photograph, 10/2016 6.06 mb
Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 417.
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.
A beautiful outdoor garden with the residential streets of Ukrainian Village as its background is the setting for the larger-than-life-sized statue of Major Archbishop Josyf Slipyj (1892-1984). He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1965 and is a “Confessor of the Faith.” The Founder of the parish, Slipyj blessed the new church building’s cornerstone. Supporting the Ukrainian state and refusing to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, he was continously imprisoned by the Soviet authorities from 1945 to 1963. Through the intervention of St. Pope John XXIII and U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Josyf Slipj was released by Nikita Khrushchev in early 1963 and participated in the Second Vatican Council.Josyf Slipyj died in Rome in 1984 and his cause for canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church has been introduced at the Vatican.
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. Worthmann & Steinbach was a Chicago-based architectural firm active in the first three decades of the 20th century. It was a partnership of German-born Henry W. Worthmann (1857-1946) and John G. Steinbach. The firm, with offices in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois, designed many of the great Polish cathedrals in Chicago and for Eastern Catholic and Lutheran clients. Clement L. Pointek collaborated with Worthmann & Steinbach until he formed his own architectural firm with principal Joseph A. Slupkowski (1884-1951). The church interior was renovated in the wake of Vatican II liturgical reforms in the mid 1970s by Ukrainian-American architect Zenon Mazurkevich (1939-2018).
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.
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, St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette, Illinois. The stained glass 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
Interior of St. Francis Xavier Church from the altar looking towards the main entrance. McCarthy, Smith & Eppig was a design firm that worked extensively with Chicago Cardinal George Mundelein (1872-1939) in the 1930s. Lead architect, Joseph W. McCarthy (1884-1965), had been a young architect under Daniel Burnham (1846-1912), a major design force in Chicago. McCarthy later built, under his own name and with sundry firms, many churches and other ecclesial structures in the Chicago area in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. In 1939 McCarthy built both St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and the more grandiose St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wilmette about one mile straight to the west. The design of St. Francis Xavier Church was handled mostly by the firm’s younger partners, David Smith and Arthur Eppig (1909-1982). The church building’s simple architecture with its fine details cost $200,000 to construct in the waning years of the Great Depression, or about $4 million in 2022 (see- https://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/). While the majority of McCarthy’s church buildings were built in Chicago and its environs some of his high-profile church projects included the cathedral church in Springfield, Illinois (1928) and parish church (1918) of what later became the bishop’s seat in Joliet, Illinois. 7/2014 5.85 mb
Depicted in marble at the entrance to the sanctuary in Wilmette, Illinois, is St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the parish church’s patron and namesake. His feast day, December 3, marks his death day at 46 years old on an island off mainland China in the mid16th century.
Holding a crucifix, the Basque Jesuit priest is dressed in a black cassock draped by an alb and stole. St. Francis Xavier, a naturally magnanimous personality, ultimately became the first Roman Catholic missionary to the Far East in the first years of the Jesuit order’s official existence in the 1540s.
By 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.
Leaving by ship from Lisbon, Portugal, St. Francis Xavier was, in 1545, the first Jesuit missionary to India and, in 1549, to Japan. The Jesuit Order was the only Roman Catholic missionaries in Asia until the 17th century.
The physical distances St. Francis Xavier traveled in the 1540s is remarkable. On his return trip to India from Japan – almost 6000 km by air from India – St. Francis Xavier’s ship was thrown off course in a sea storm where it stopped at an island near Guangzhou, Guangdong, China.
Once back in India, St. Francis Xavier looked to immediately return to China. After some delays, he reached Shangchuan Island a couple of miles from the mainland.
On December 3, 1552, as the 46-year-old Francis waited for transportto mainland China, he died of fever.
Buried on Shangchuanin quicklime, the chemical compound was used with the intention to more speedily consume flesh and leave only bones for easy transport.
Two months later in February 1553, when the saint’s remains were exhumed, his body was intact. Francis’s body was taken to Portuguese Malacca and, in December 1553, it was taken further to Goa in India which was the saint’s headquarters. In Goa Francis received a hero’s welcome.
In 2022 St. Francis Xavier is buried in Goa’s basilica. Reports of miracles were made in India, Japan and beyond following his death. In 1619 St. Francis Xavier was beatified by Pope Paul V and canonized on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.
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
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 (above in its east wall setting and below).
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.
FEATURE image: At the top of the high altar’s retable in St. Michael Church in Chicago’s Old Town is the figure of St. Michael the Archangel, the parish church’s patron. St. Michael is mentioned in several places in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The near northside Chicago parish has been administered by the Redemptorist Order since 1860.
The bell tower of St. Michael Church in Chicago’s Old Town at 1633 N. Cleveland Avenue. From 1869 to 1885, this church tower was the tallest building in Chicago. It was surpassed by the old Board of Trade Building.
In 1876, five years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that ravaged the city, the rebuilt St. Michael Church raised five new bells into the tower. They were cast by McShane Company. The tower’s four-sided clock was installed in 1888. Atop the steeple, the twenty-four-foot tall cross weighs over a ton.
By John P. Walsh
The story is told that if you can hear the five 2-to-6-ton bells peel from the 290-feet-tall tower of St. Michael Church you live in Chicago’s Old Town. Yet it depends on which way the wind is blowing.
St. Michael Church is one of Chicago’s oldest parishes and church buildings. It was founded by German Catholics in 1852. From their arrival in the 1830s and 1840s until World War I, German immigrants of all faiths made up Chicago’s most numerous nationality.
German immigrants soon migrated out of downtown Chicago and about two miles north to North Avenue. The east-west thoroughfare became known as “German Broadway.”
This European immigrant community expanded to eventually settle a four-mile square area that was called “North Town.” St. Michael Church was situated in the virtual center of North Town on land donated by successful German-born Chicago businessman and brewer Michael Diversey (1810-1869). Diversey had immigrated to the United States in the 1830s from Saarland in western Germany.
St. Michael Church stands on land donated expressly for the purpose of building it by successful German-American brewer Michael Diversey (1810-1869). Diversey emigrated from Germany in 1830, and by 1844 he was a Chicago alderman. The church is named after the wealthy beer maker’s patron saint, St Michael the Archangel, whose limestone figure stands in the high niche on the façade (see photograph below). Diversey’s so-called Chicago Brewery, first established in Chicago in 1839, grew to become one of the most extensive establishments of its kind in the West.
The church building is built of red brick with limestone trim in the Romanesque style. Construction started in 1866 and was finished three years later. In 1871 the new building was virtually destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire along with its North Town neighborhood. Only the church’s exterior walls remained. Using these existing walls, the fire-gutted St. Michael Church was rebuilt and rededicated in 1873. Ashes from that infamous conflagration can still be seen in the church’s basement.
Gabled three-portal main entrance was added to the façade in 1913 by a Chicago architect. The architectural design harkens back to the cathedrals of Europe.
Main altar at one end of a 190-foot central nave.
Dating from 1902, the Main Altar of the Angels is a cacophony of German-style wood carving, 2013.
In 1851 when St Michael was founded, Chicago’s total population was around 30,000 making it the twenty-fourth largest city in the United States.
Ten years later, in 1860, right before the outbreak of the American Civil War, Chicago’s population had nearly quadrupled and ranked in the nation’s top ten largest cities.
Chicago’s Catholic Church hierarchy in the middle of the nineteenth century was mostly Irish. These English-speaking bishops relied on religious orders to handle a tidal wave of non-English-speaking immigrants to Chicago, including the Germans.
In 1860, the St. Michael Church parish was entrusted to the Redemptorists, a religious order founded in 1748 in Italy. The Redemptorists with their German congregation built the St. Michael Church in Old Town that stands today. Over 170 years later, the Redemptorist order continues to shepherd the parish.
A mosaic of Saint Michael the Archangel in the floor at the entrance of the church. “Archangel” is a title that signifies he is the leader of all God’s angels.
The mosaic of the patron angel in the floor starts the church’s 190-foot-long nave. It is one of the many religious images—others in stone, wood and paint—that constitutes the interior and exterior decoration of St. Michael Church.
St. Michael the Archangel is mentioned four times in the Bible: twice in the Book of Daniel and in the Epistle of Jude and the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Daniel, St. Michael the archangel helps the prophet Daniel and is linked to the “end times” of the world. In the Epistle of Jude, St. Michael the archangel guards the tombs of Eve and Moses and combats Satan to protect these holy sites.
In the Book of Revelation St. Michael and his angels do battle with the “dragon.” In addition to being charged with expelling Satan from Heaven (as depicted in the retable), St. Michael is charged with the care of all departed souls to introduce them to the holy light. St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of soldiers, police, and doctors.
Detail of the Main Altar retable depicts St. Michael the archangel in the traditional iconography of armor with sword and shield casting Satan out of Heaven by God’s command. St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of soldiers, police, and doctors.
The spacious, airy, and dramatic church sanctuary today looks basically as it did by 1902. The motivation for the church’s extensive redecoration in 1902 was its Golden Jubilee as well as one expression of the parishioners’ decided prosperity by the later 1890s.
Some Stained Glass
Created and installed by Mayer & Company of Munich for St. Michael Church’s Golden Jubilee in 1902, the tall and thin stained glass windows —the fourth set of windows to be installed into architect August Walbaum’s original design— depicted Biblical and other scenes. The window’s artistic technique drew upon centuries of European craft and design – and were recently cleaned in 2012.
Annunciation of Jesus to Mary Window (Luke 1: 26-38). Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus is stated explicitly in verses 34-35. In Hebrew her name, Miryām, means “exalted one.”
In that Jubilee year, the stained glass was installed along with the 56-foot-high carved wood retable of the High (or main) Altar of the Angels. Though there are five altars in St. Michael Church, the main altar is the most spectacular, drawing the eye forward and upward from practically anywhere in the church. Crowning this painted construct—which is so heavy that it required a new local foundation to be dug for it—is the figure of St. Michael the Archangel described in the Book of Revelation. The angel is garbed in his panzer (“armor”) running rebellious angels out of heaven. St. Michael is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Nine choirs of angels and the saints Peter and Paul are also depicted in wood. Smaller human figures depict the four evangelists identified by their Christian symbols—specifically, the Winged Man (Matthew), Winged Lion (Mark), Winged Ox (Luke) and Eagle (John). All five altars were made by E. Hackner Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, an early twentieth century designer, manufacturer and importer of artistic ecclesiastic furnishings.
Annunciation Window (Detail). The angel Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace,” is a greeting that is full of peace, joy and wisdom. Mary is the object of God’s grace and favor and is shown to be chosen for a long time past. The depiction of lilies, whether in the angel’s hand or arranged into a bouquet by Mary’s side, is traditional imagery for purity.
Anointing of Jesus by Mary Magdalene at Bethany Window. The anointing of Jesus in Bethany by the sinful woman, traditionally the Magdalene. Though the story varies in certain details, all four gospels relate the anointing set in a house for a meal and a woman who pours expensive ointment on Jesus to which someone objects. In regard to the ointment, Mark’s account (14:3) records that it is the purest of spikenard which was very expensive costing over a year’s wages (Mark 14:5). Luke’s gospel speaks of Jesus’ feet being anointed by a woman who had been sinful all her life and who was crying (7:38). As her tears fall on the feet of Jesus, she kissed and wiped his feet with her hair. The iconography of the woman’s actions in the Gospels has traditionally been associated with Mary Magdalene though none of the biblical texts specify her as the story’s subject.
In 2020, the spikenard plant is part of Pope Francis’s coat of arms. He uses the image of the plant as does the Latin American church, as a symbol for St. Joseph.
Spikenard was grown in India, China, and Nepal and known in ancient Rome where it was used as a cooking agent. By the time of Jesus, in the early Roman Empire, spikenard was used primarily in perfume.
Coat of Arms of Pope Francis (2013-). According to the Vatican, the image of the plant to the right of the star on the blue background is spikenard and represents St. Joseph.
Let the Little Children Come to Me Window. In Jesus’s public ministry, crowds often followed and pressed in upon him and his disciples. Jesus’s famous words, “Let the little children come to me,” are cited in all three synoptic gospels: Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16. When the people’s children were brought to the miracle worker and teacher -even their infants- they wanted him to lay his hands on them and bless them. The disciples rebuked them and Jesus became “indiginant” as he said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Sacred Heart Window. The first of four great visions in which Jesus Christ revealed his Sacred Heart to French nun St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) took place on December 27, 1673 in her Visitation convent in Paray-le-Monial in Burgundy France. In each of these visions Christ revealed messages that the young saint was to communicate. The greatest of all the visions took place in 1676. Before the Tabernacle on the altar that exposed the Eucharist, Jesus said: “Behold this Heart which has so loved mankind, that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself in order to demonstrate and prove its love for them.” St. Margaret Mary was ordered by her confessor, St. Claude de la Colombière, a Jesuit priest, to write down all her visions. Afterwards, the saint suffered great persecutions from the Church and others for these visions until she fell ill and died in 1690 at 43 years old. She was beatified in 1864 and canonized in 1920.
As with other American church building adaptations of earlier European architectural styles, the use of Romanesque rounded arches and corbels accentuated the use of Gothic-style glass in Chicago’s Old Town Roman Catholic church.
Central nave ceiling mural includes symbolic depictions of the four evangelists: Winged Man (Matthew); Winged Lion (Mark); Winged Ox (Luke); Eagle (John).
Its filigree evokes medieval illuminated manuscripts and perhaps is inspired by a scene painted in the 15th century in the dome of The Basilica of St Mark in Venice.
Pietà, copy of a 16th-century Swabian-style artwork made around 1913.
The Sacred Heart side altar (east nave). In addition to the central statue of Christ are those depicting Redemptorist Order founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori (Italian, 1696-1787) and Discalced Carmelite Order founder, St. Teresa of Avila (Spanish, 1515-1582).
St. Joseph altar (west nave) with a mural of Redemptorists before Christ’s Heavenly throne. At right in the foreground, a wood confessional box. The founder of the Redemptorists, Italian-born St. Alphonsus Liguori, was highly educated and spent much of his life in the confessional as a home missionary to his city of Naples, Italy, among the ordinary people.
Side altar honors Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help whose image was important to Saint Alphonsus, founder of the Redemptorists who were the religious order pastors of St. Michael Church from 1860. Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878) gave this specific icon to the Chicago Redemptorists in 1865. After the Great Fire, it was picked out of the charred embers. Having survived intact in the rubble, it was taken as a sign to rebuild the church building and later set the icon into this German Baroque-style retable.
Two of the 14 traditional Stations of the Cross. The traditional Stations of the Cross that are in Church-wide use were composed by St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) in 1761. St. Alphonsus was made a bishop in 1762, Doctor of the Church in 1871, and founded the Redemptorists in 1732. His stations are taken from the Gospels where the footsteps of Christ’s passion are chronicled and were venerated by the first Christians. St. Alphonsus Liguori’s stations are classic for their ability to stir the heart towards prayer, humility, and repentance. St. Alphonsus was born in 1696 in Naples, Italy and lived to be 90 years old. After an early career in law, St. Alphonsus heard the voice of Jesus calling him and became a priest in 1726. His parents were devout Catholics but not pleased by their lawyer son’s decision mainly because the clergy at the time was notoriously corrupt. In 1748 he published Moral Theology that received papal approbation and became an immediate success though it reflected some of the pastoral laxity of the Church in the 18th century which has remained controversial.
The history of St. Michael Church is a study in the rise of the German population to a dominant position in a new American city that was itself rising as the City of the Century. Chicago in less than 50 years developed out of an onion swamp into the second most populated city in the United States.
Between 1874 and following World War I, Chicago’s rapid emergence on the world stage was accompanied by Deutschtum (or “Germanness”) in its culture.
While Deutschtum appeared to be invincible, the Kaiser’s defeat in 1918 in the European war signaled the beginning of the end for German cultural dominance in Chicago. Their cultural hegemony in Chicago was virtually completely dismantled by the start of World War II.
Sources: G. Lane and A. Kezys, Chicago Churches and Synogogues. P. d’A Jones and M.G. Holli, Ethnic Chicago. D.A. Pacyga and E. Skerrett, Chicago, City of Neighborhoods. D. McNamara, Heavenly City. 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. The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph a Fitzmyer, S.J., and Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm., 1982. St. Michael Church website. https://iamjesus.net/traditional-stations-of-the-cross/https://www.emporis.com/buildings/136851/st-michael-church-chicago-il-usa
Photographs taken by author February 2013; May 2016; and June 2022.
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