Best Of Chicago

Chicago’s Most Interesting Churches

July 28, 2014 7:00 AM

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(Photo Credit: holytrinitycathedral.net)

(Photo Credit: holytrinitycathedral.net)

No matter what religion you profess, if you like art and architecture, you should tour some of the churches in your city or in towns you visit. Churches have historically housed exceptional paintings, murals, sculptures and beautiful stained-glass windows. Their buildings have often been designed by noted architects in styles ranging from Gothic to modern. The following churches are a few examples worth a visit in a city that has more than 6,000 houses of worship.
(Photo Credit: holytrinitycathedral.net)

(Photo Credit: holytrinitycathedral.net)

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral
1121 N. Leavitt St.
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 486-6064
www.holytrinitychathedral.net
 
If you have never visited an Orthodox church, you should because their interior walls are covered with stories from the Scriptures, historic events and the churches are filled with icons of Christ, Mary, angels, saints and other important religious figures. There are several picturesque Orthodox churches in the Chicago area but one you should put on your must-visit list is Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in the Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park neighborhood. Founded in 1882, it is Chicago’s oldest Orthodox parish. Built in 1903, the church and rectory were designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan. He is said to have likened the design to a small church in Tatarskay, Siberia. Holy Trinity was designated a cathedral by the Orthodox church in 1923. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has Chicago Landmark status.
St. Mary Of The Angels
1850 N. Hermitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 278-2644
www.sma-church.org

If touring churches, go over to St. Mary of the Angels, a Catholic church in the Bucktown neighborhood that is not far from the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral. Commuters know it as the imposing brick church with a dome and two bell towers peering above buildings on the west side of the Kennedy Expressway and seen from Metra trains heading into Chicago. Designed by Henry Schlacks, who also did the church’s earlier structure, the building is considered among the country’s best examples of Italian Romanesque architecture. Look for its 26 angels outside along the roof. Then go inside to admire its beautiful murals, stained-glass windows and sculptures.
Unity Temple
875 Lake St.
Oak Park, IL 60301
(708) 383-8873
www.oprf.com
 
You’ll know as soon as you see this building who designed it. That it is in suburban Oak Park, just over Chicago’s western border, is another clue because its architect’s studio and home are here. Yes, Frank Lloyd Wright designed Unity Temple, now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and a National Historic Landmark. Made by pouring concrete into wooden molds, it was built from 1905 to 1908. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation holds services on Sundays and other events here. Tours are held by the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation. Look for art glass windows and doors and the architect’s signature strong vertical and horizontal lines. In the sanctuary, balconies stretch along the sides, windows are high and the organ’s pipes are behind the oak grill to the back of the lectern. The building is classic early Wright.

Related: Historic Churches In Chicago

First United Methodist Church Chicago Temple
77 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 236-4548
www.chicagotemple.org
 
Even though there is a cross atop the First United Methodist Church Chicago Temple, office workers and visitors can be forgiven for passing without knowing of its impressive first-floor entry and sanctuary with stained-glass windows or its Sky Chapel. Unless they come downtown at night and note its Gothic, church-style top and lit steeple rising to more than 500 feet above street level, they wouldn’t see the cross. When built by the architectural firm of Holabird & Roche in 1924, the church was Chicago’s tallest building until the Board of Trade went up in 1930. The structure is a mixed-use building that has offices on floors 5 through 21. The Sky Chapel near the top is accessed by a combination of two elevators and stairway. The church’s roots go back to 1831 when it was begun by Methodist circuit riders. The Chicago Fire destroyed one building and new needs led to the replacement of the church’s next structure with the current skyscraper. Tall as it is, passersby are likely to be looking across the street at Daley Plaza and the Picasso sculpture. However, the church is definitely worth a visit.
Fourth Presbyterian Church
126 E. Chestnut St.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 787-4570
www.fourthchurch.org

The Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue at Chestnut Street has become almost as much a part of the Magnificent Mile as the nearby Water Tower complex. The church, founded in 1871, moved to its current home in 1914, making it the oldest structure on the avenue north of the Chicago River except for the Water Tower that survived the Great Chicago Fire. Architect Ralph Adams Cram who also did New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine designed Fourth Presbyterian in a combination of French and English Gothic. Howard Van Doren Shaw, who would design Lake Forest’s ground-breaking Market Square in 1916, did the church’s Tudor-style courtyard parish buildings in 1914. Inside, look for the church’s glorious Great East Window done by Charles J. Connick in 1930. The window is framed at the top with stone vines and grapes. The figures include Peter and Paul and major prophets and evangelists.
 
Related: Best Historical Sites In Chicago
Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

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