Exploring a Downtown Chicago Religious Buildings

By Elizabeth Tieri on October 31, 2012

TOURSDAILY

Earlier this summer, I had the joy of being guided around the Chicago Temple by our director Amanda Scotese.  Those of you who have joined us for the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour have caught just a glimpse of what this marvelous skyscraper affords in history and architectural gems.  Now we’re getting ready for our fall rendition of this Exclusive Tour of the Chicago Temple Building, this Saturday at 5pm, and we’d like to explore via this post some other downtown Chicago religious buildings.

Our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour passes two other places of worship. I decided to give these downtown Chicago religious buildings more than a glance.  So I took a delightfully rainy fall afternoon as an excuse to roam these hallowed grounds. (p.s. “hallowed” means “sanctified.” No connection with Halloween, but a fitting title, yes?)

St. Peter’s Church

downtown Chicago religious buildings St. Peter's Church
St. Peter’s may be the most easily spotted of the downtown Chicago religious buildings. Photo Credit: Jyoti Srivastava

First stop was St. Peter’s Church.  You might know it as that three-story tall crucifix that reigns over Madison Street just west of Clark (110 W. Madison St.).  “Christ of the Loop” was designed by Latvian sculptor Arvid Strauss. Chicago artist J. Watts physically crafted the sculpture. It’s been here since 1953.

Rather than stained glass windows, the interior of the sanctuary is lined with marble statues and bas reliefs of the life and fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi, whose order of friars reside at the church. Carrara marble faux windows lift the eye upon entering the sanctuary. “To Know Your Pain,” pictured here, shows the story of St. Francis receiving the Stigmata. The somber effect of these marble windows on the glorious space is remarkable. It reminds one of Italy without that pesky trans-Atlantic flight. You can even get near the relics of the 13th-century Italian saints of Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi. Proving the Chicago Detours approach to travel here: you don’t need to leave Chicago for the delights of Europe or elsewhere.

Loop Synagogue

Just around the corner is the Chicago Loop Synagogue (16 S. Clark St.). A bronze sculpture titled “Hands of Peace” by Henri Azaz adorns the facade. The letters spell out a blessing in both Hebrew and English. But the true beauty of this space is really seen from inside.

loop synagogue tour
Photo credit: Jyoti Srivastava

Inside the entire eastern wall of the sanctuary has some of the most marvelous stained glass windows I have ever seen. (This is coming from a woman who has roamed much of France in adoration of churches.) “Let There Be Light” is a composition of ancient Hebraic symbols arranged in a harmony of light and glass. Abraham Rattner‘s windows, like Azaz’s sculptures, were conceived with the architecture of the Synagogue, which held it’s first services in this building in the fall of 1958. The windows would follow two years later.

Because of the nature of windows in general as well as the grand scale of these specifically, photos simply do not do Rattner’s brilliance justice. I did find a video clip,  Let There Be Light, courtesy of WTTW that gets as close as I consider possible to the real thing. I hope that it has the same effect on you as it did on me; it got me to the Synagogue to see them for myself.

I was also struck by the Ark, where the scrolls of the Torah are kept, the larger-than-me menorah, and the closeness of it all. The room here is only as wide as the window itself and makes for an intimate encounter with the sanctuary.

Imagine, these other worlds of spirituality exist just blocks from major financial operations and the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s Loop.

–Elizabeth S. Tieri, Tour Guide