Category Archives: Stained Glass

All of the Angels in stained glass at St. Michael Church in Old Town, Chicago.


ASSUMPTION WINDOW (central panel/detail), 1902, St. Michael Church, Chicago. Franz Mayer & Company, Munich, Germany.

By John P. Walsh


St. Michael Church in Old Town on Chicago’s north side is one of the oldest parishes and church buildings in the city. Founded in 1852, its brick walls from 1869 withstood the flames of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, yet those flames left it a charred, empty shell. Feeding on clapboard houses that surrounded the historically-German parish, the bell tower collapsed in intense flame as the Fire continued its northward march until petering out for good about one mile away (the Great Fire had started about three miles to the south on the other side of the Chicago River). 

In 1869 the church building had cost over $130,000 to build (approximately $2.25 million in today’s dollars) and in 1872 after the fire its repairs cost $40,000, not including unknown insurance money amounts, or about $700,000 today. Reconstruction did not include these beautiful stained glass windows photographed by the author in 2015 – and that are gloriously preserved for the visitor to see in the sanctuary today – because they were not created and installed until thirty years later. 

In preparation for St. Michael’s Golden Jubilee in 1902 these tall and thin Bavarian-made stained glass windows -the fourth set of windows to be installed into architect August Walbaum’s original design for the building (the others, merely frosted or tinted, in 1866, 1873 and 1878) – drew on centuries of craft and technique in stained glass-making. For the Golden Jubilee in 1902 Franz Mayer & Company of Munich produced some of the finest stained glass of the early twentieth century to depict colorful New Testament scenes for the east and west walls of the sanctuary. Along with five new altars crafted and installed by Hackner & Sons of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, for the same Golden Jubilee, the realism and expressiveness of Mayer’s windows – recently experiencing a complete cleaning in 2013 – gave to the prospering parish a new sense of wonder and great joy in their sacramental worship and lives that can still be seen and experienced in its intact form today.

Mayer’s west windows depict the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the (non-biblical) Presentation of Mary and (biblical) Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity and Epiphany, and Assumption. The east windows depict events in the life of Jesus: Finding Jesus in the Temple, Jesus Blesses the Children, Jesus’s feet washed by Mary Magdalene, Ascension and (non-biblical) Sacred Heart. All of these faith events are accompanied by Mayer’s fine depictions of a cacophony of angels manifesting the heavenly host (the special subject of this blog entry’s 11 photographs). The windows’ rich color tones are rendered by using precious metals: gold dust for red; cobalt for blue; uranium for green. The story scenes are given a Renaissance Europe setting. Mayer & Company, founded in 1847 as “The Institute for Christian Art,” established a stained glass department in 1860. In 1882 it was awarded by “mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) the designation as a Royal Bavarian Establishment for Ecclesiastical Art. The Pope later pronounced the foundry a Pontifical Institute for Christian Art. Instead of thinking of St. Michael commissioning a venerable Old European arts company that is Mayer’s status today, in 1902 Franz Mayer was a German company that mirrored the Chicago parish in its contemporaneity. 

The founder’s son Franz Borgias Mayer (1848 – 1926) continued to grow the royal manufacturing company for Christian Art so that ten years after St. Michael’s stained glass windows, Pope Pius X (1835-1914) commissioned the German company to make stained glass for St. Peter’s Basilica as well as for several windows in important chapels in Vatican City. Throughout the United States, Mayer grew in clients and prestige serving an increasingly prosperous Catholic immigrant community. This involved significant ecclesiastical work in Chicago, Illinois, and also New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Washington State and California. In 2016 Franz Mayer continues as family-owned and operated business (see 

valuation comparables –

stained glass department in 1860- Franz Mayer of Munich, edited by Gabriel Mayer, University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Pope Pius X commission – Nola Huse Tutag with Lucy Hamilton, Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1987. p. 152.


©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Chicago’s Oldest German Parish (1852): St Michael Church in Old Town.

The Featured Image is St. Michael Church’s bell tower at 1633 N. Cleveland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. In 1876 the church hoisted five new bells cast by McShane Company into the tower. Twelve years later, in 1888, the tower’s four-sided clock was put in place. The twenty-four-foot cross that sits atop the steeple weighs more than 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. They quickly migrated out of downtown Chicago the two miles or so north to North Avenue, a thoroughfare which became known as German Broadway. This Western and Eastern European community expanded to settle a four-mile square area that was called North Town. St. Michael Church was placed in the virtual center of North Town on land donated by successful German-born Chicago businessman-brewer Michael Diversey (1810-1869). Diversey had immigrated to the United States in the 1830s from Saarland in western Germany.

Michael Diversey St. Michael Church stands today on land donated for that purpose by successful German-American brewer Michael Diversey. It is named for that wealthy beer maker’s patron saint whose limestone figure stands in a 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.

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main entrance
The gabled three-portal main entrance harkens back to the cathedrals of Europe and was added to the façade in 1913 by a Chicago architect.

The church building is built of red brick with limestone trim in the Romanesque style. Construction started in 1866 and finished three years later. In 1871 the new building was destroyed along with the entire North Town neighborhood in the Great Chicago Fire. Only the church’s exterior walls remained. Using existing walls, the fire-gutted St. Michael Church was rebuilt and rededicated in 1873. Ashes from that famous conflagration are still present in the church basement.

St Michael Church, interior.

St Michael Church, interior.

In 1851 when St Michael was founded, Chicago’s 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 almost quadrupled and now ranked in the country’s top ten largest cities. In that time the mainly Irish Catholic hierarchy in Chicago looked to religious orders to handle the tidal wave of non-English-speaking immigrants such as the Germans. At St. Michael Church that charge was entrusted in 1860 to the religious order of Redemptorists founded in Italy in 1748. The Redemptorists with their German congregation built the church in Chicago that is seen today. More than 160 years later, the Redemptorists continue to shepherd the parish.



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A mosaic of Saint Michael the Archangel in the floor at the entrance of the church. He is an angel whose title “Archangel” 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 more image—others in stone, wood and paint—in the interior and exterior decoration of  St. Michael Church. The archangel is mentioned four times in the Bible: in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude, and the Book of Revelation. St. Michael the archangel is mentioned by name twice in the Book of Daniel where in the first instance he helps the prophet Daniel and in another he is linked to the “end times” of the world. In the Epistle of Jude St. Michael the archangel guards the tombs of Moses and Eve and combats Satan to protect these holy sites. In the Book of Revelation St. Michael and his angels do battle with the “dragon.” St. Michael the archangel is the patron saint of soldiers, police, and doctors.


The High Altar

The High (or main) Altar of the Angels in St. Michael Church dates from 1902.

The spacious, airy, and dramatic church sanctuary today looks basically as it did by 1902. That was the year the stained glass was installed along with the 56-foot-high carved wood retable of the High (or main) Altar of the Angels. There are five altars in St. Michael Church but the main altar is the most spectacular, drawing the eye forward and upward. 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 described in the Book of Revelation. He is garbed in his panzer (“armor”) running rebellious angels out of heaven. Michael is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Also depicted are the nine choirs of angels and the saints Peter and Paul. 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). The five altars were made by E. Hackner Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, an early twentieth century designer, manufacturer and importer of artistic ecclesiastic furnishings. 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.


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The Annunciation window, Franz Mayer & Company of Munich, St. Michael Church. In 1869 the St. Michael Church building cost over $130,000 to build (approximately $2.25 million today). After the fire its repairs in 1872 cost an additional $40,000, plus unknown amounts of insurance money (about $700,000 today). Reconstruction did not include the stained glass windows which were installed in 1902. Please see my article and photographs for more historical details specifically on the stained glass in St. Michael church at

St. Michael Church, Old Town, Chicago.
CHRISTMAS WINDOW (detail), 1902, St. Michael Church, Chicago. Franz Mayer & Company, Munich, Germany. 

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Created and installed by Mayer & Company of Munich in 1902 for St. Michael Church’s Golden Jubilee, 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 and drew on centuries of craft and technique. 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 the Old Town Roman Catholic church.

Carved pulpit, St. Michael Church.
Carved pulpit, St. Michael Church.

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Ceiling mural over the central nave. 

The ceiling mural over the central nave includes symbolic depictions of the four evangelists. Its filigree evokes medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as perhaps one of the scenes from the Book of Genesis painted in the dome of The Basilica of St Mark in Venice in the fifteenth century.

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An early sixteenth century Swabian-style pieta in the church vestibule was made around 1913.

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The Sacred Heart side altar to the east side of the main altar honors Jesus’s apparition to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690).  The statues depict St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) and St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), both founders of religious orders.

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Another side altar honors Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help. This image was important to Saint Alphonsus and this specific icon was given to the Chicago Redemptorists in 1865 by Pope Pius IX (1792 – 1878). After the Great Fire, it had to be picked out of the charred embers and rubble. Having survived intact, it taken as a sign to rebuild and was later set into this nearly Indo-Chinese-style retable.

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 also rising. In less than 50 years Chicago developed out of an onion swamp into the second most populated city in the United States. Between 1874 until after 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 Europe signaled the beginning of the end for German cultural dominance in Chicago and was virtually completely dismantled by 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; St. Michael Church website.

Photographs taken February 13 and 17, 2013.