The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness

There are two large churches in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver within walking distance of each other. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, on Colfax Ave., whose French Gothic facade must be impressive,  but which is undergoing restoration work, so I didn’t see much of it.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, DenverImmaculate Conception is the the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, built in the early 20th century. Its design, by one Leon Coquard of Detroit, was reportedly influenced by the Saint Nicholas Collegiate church of Munster in Moselle. Bishop Nicholas Chrysostom Matz, who had the basilica built, was from there.

The altar, statuary, and bishop’s chair are all made of Carrara marble, while other elements feature stone from Marble, Colo. A wedding party had the run of the basilica while I was there, getting ready for the ceremony, I think.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, DenverAccording to the basilica’s web site, its stained glass windows — all 75 of them — were crafted by F.X. Zettler Co. in Munich at the Royal Bavarian Art Institute, who did a lot of windows for American churches. “The firm and its secret for stained glass were destroyed during World War II,” the site also says, so presumably there won’t be any more made for anywhere else.

A few blocks away, deeper in the Capitol Hill neighborhood — where parking is tough — is Saint John’s Cathedral. Or in full, the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness, a wonderful name. It’s the seat of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado.

It too is Gothic, dating from the early years of the 20th century, as a replacement for an earlier structure that burned down. The front was in shadow, so I captured an image of the church hemmed in my tall trees from another angle. Wilderness all right.
Cathedral of St. John in the WildernessApparently the structure wasn’t quite built as planned, because of cost (what else?). According to the cathedral’s web site: “The two transepts, choir and great tower were never built. Only the nave was completed of limestone with a temporary’ brick chancel.”

Ah, well. It’s only been a century and change. Maybe these things will be built in the fullness of time.

Cathedral of St. John in the WildernessCathedral of St. John in the WildernessA nice, cool space on a hot day. I sat for a while and listened to an organist practice.

I saw one more church in the neighborhood, something unexpected: the Denver Community Church at 1595 Pearl St.

Denver Community Church at 1595 Pearl StObviously not originally a Christian church. In fact, the building used to be Temple Emanuel, built in the last years of the 19th century. A Baptist group bought the building in 1957, and a Pentacostal church did in 1977, so it hasn’t been a synagogue in a long time.

Denver Community Church, an independent evangelical group, acquired it in 2013. Wish the building had been open. Looks like an interesting space inside.

The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, Vincennes

Ah, woe is Houston. It could have easily been my hometown. Even though it isn’t, I hate to see it underwater.

Vincennes, Indiana, has a handsome downtown, or at least a well-appointed main street. We drove on that street on August 20, but didn’t stop because the 90-plus temps that day discouraged walking around. Elsewhere in the town, I noticed the grass as it should be in August: brown, indicating sustained heat and not a lot of rain recently.

A few blocks away from downtown Vincennes is the Greek Revival-style Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, dating from 1826 and built on the site of two previous churches, the first going back to Frenchmen building a log structure ca. 1732. A plaque near the entrance calls it The Old Cathedral.

Center of the Catholic faith and scene of the great events of early American history in the old Northwest Territory. This historic and stately cathedral was raised to the rank of a basilica by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, March 14, 1970.The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesThe Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesThe interior sports large wooden Doric columns dividing the nave from aisles, a painted ceiling, murals and some fine stained glass. Stately indeed.
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesI told Ann how stained glass was used to tell Biblical stories to people back when most were illiterate, and that the tradition continued after that. Or sometimes they illustrate general principals, such as Jesus being Jesus.
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesOne you don’t see too often, or at least I don’t think so: the Lord as a 12-year-old at the Temple.
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesI’m just guessing, but the mural to the left of the altar (its own left) seems to be St. Francis Xavier in the Spice Islands (Malikus). Here’s a detail.

St. Francis Xavier Basilica, Vincennes

Toward the back is a fine-looking organ. I can’t say a thing about it, except I wouldn’t have minded hearing its pipes blow.
St. Francis Xavier Basilica, VincennesOut in front of the basilica, there’s a statue that’s unlikely to rise the ire of any would-be memorial revisionists: Father Pierre Gibault (1737-1802). Sculpted by Albin Polasek, much of whose work is visible in Florida.
St. Francis Xavier Basilica, VincennesI had to look him up. He was a Jesuit missionary and priest in the Northwest Territory, and when war came, he provided vital help to George Rogers Clark in his effort to capture Vincennes from the British in February 1779. Perhaps that was his way of paying back the British, whom he witnessed conquer New France in the Seven Years’ War.

St. Hedwig, Bucktown

Not far away from Covenant Presbyterian Church is St. Hedwig, at 2100 W. Webster Ave., the church whose Polish congregation split in the 1890s. As a mainstream Catholic church, St. Hedwig has endured into the 21st century. It too is a handsome edifice.

St. Hedwig's, BucktownAdolphus Druiding did the design. The AIA Guide to Chicago says, “In this high-octane Renaissance Revival design for a Polish congregation, the geometric facade is anchored by square corner piers topped by robust cupolas. The aedicula above the entry is echoed by a pedimented reredos behind the altar.”

Aedicula, now there’s good $10 word. I remember that’s where the Lares and Penates go, though I suppose it’s a little different in an architectural context, especially for a Christian church.

Lares and Penates. A band name waiting to be taken. Or the name of a fictional detective agency.

Here’s the interior. I spent a few minutes there as well.

St. Hedwig's, Bucktown

As soon as I sat down, another baptism got under way, not 20 minutes after the two I witnessed at Covenant Presbyterian a few blocks away, this one a little boy. I was able to compare and contrast the Catholic and the Protestant versions, for what that was worth. I live a charmed life.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bucktown

In Bucktown on Sunday I visited two churches during my late-morning walk. The first was Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, ChicagoThis is no ordinary large church. It has quite a back story, because the church building used to be the Cathedral of All Saints of the Polish National Catholic Church in Chicago. I’ve visited that organization’s cemetery, out near O’Hare.

So not precisely Catholic, but pretty close. I am informed that the Polish National Catholic Church is not in full communion with Rome, and hasn’t been since it was formed in the late 19th century. Neither is the separate but similar-sounding Polish Catholic Church, but that church is a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. The Polish National Catholic Church used to be communion with Utrecht, but isn’t any more — that happened only in the last 10 years or so. Rather, it’s with the Union of Scranton, which also counts the Nordic Catholic Church as a member. Need a scorecard to keep up with the schisms.

Now that that’s cleared up, the following is about what’s now Covenant Presbyterian Church, located at 2012 W. Dickens Ave. The text  is from an interesting blog, which I’ll take as solid enough information. The story starts in 1890s Polish Chicago.

“Overwhelmed by the numbers of new immigrants pouring into Bucktown, the Polish-American pastor of St. Hedwig’s brought in Fr. Anthony Kozlowski, a fiery, European-educated young Polish priest to help minister to the parishioners, few of whom spoke English. St. Hedwig’s was under the administration of the Resurrectionists, an order of priests of mostly Polish extraction. …

“Many of the younger immigrants were suspicious of the order, thinking that it was being pressured by the Irish hierarchy that otherwise ran the American church, and the Chicago church in particular.

“Details are thin, but in early 1895, Kozlowski led a revolt against the Resurrectionist pastor, Thaddeus Barzynski, and his brother Joseph Barzynski, that eventually resulted in two-thirds of the St. Hedwig’s congregation quitting the church and following Kozlowski away from governance by the Pope. [They objected to much of Vatican I, it seems.]

“The revolt went critical on February 7, 1895. Kozlowski’s hotheads broke into the St. Hedwig’s rectory, where the Barzynskis had barricaded themselves, and assaulted the priests. The police were called, and found a crowd of 3,000 immigrants milling around the church. When the officers attempted to disperse the crowd, several protesters threw powdered red pepper in their faces. Dozens were injured in the ensuing brawl, and Chicago’s (Irish) Roman Catholic archbishop shut down St. Hedwig’s for several months.

“By that time, the 1,000 or so immigrants who objected to Papal rule had bought land a few blocks away and began built their own church, All Saints Cathedral.”

It took quite a while. Eventually, the congregation tapped John G. Steinbach to design the church. Its cornerstone was laid in 1931, and the church served the breakaway parish for the next 62 years, until the building became too expensive to maintain and was sold to Covenant Presbyterian Church.

“Covenant Presbyterian’s white imitation cement stone and neo-Gothic features distinguish it from other Polish Cathedral-style churches designed by Steinbach and his partner, Henry Worthmann,” writes Amy Korte in Chicago Architecture.

“A carving above the main entrance depicts a book, the sun, a cross, and a palm. Together, these images comprise the emblem of the Polish National Catholic Church, the denomination with which All Saints had affiliated itself. Below these symbols lies the Polish inscription ‘Prawda, Praca, Walka,’ an abbreviation of the denomination’s motto, ‘With truth, work and struggle, we will succeed.’ ”

I noticed that feature, but eager to get out of the sun, I didn’t take any pictures. The inscriptions are here.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bucktown

I sat at the back of the church for a short spell, taking my seat just as a pair of baptisms were taking place — two baby girls. A delightful thing to chance across, even if you don’t know the families.

Bremen, West Germany, 1983

Around this time of the year 34 years ago, I spent a couple of days in the north German city of Bremen. City-state, actually: Freie Hansestadt Bremen, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Once a state in the German Confederation, then a component state of the German Empire, it was merely a city according to the Nazis. Since 1947, it’s been a state again, the smallest in area of the Federal Republic.

Odd, Bremen and Hamburg got to be states again, but not poor old Lübeck. Such are the vagaries of history.

I had a fine time. How could I not? I was a young man with exactly nothing else to do at that moment but see a new city in an interesting old country. I was a free man in Bremen/I felt unfettered and alive… Well, that lyric wouldn’t have quite the same vibe, but that’s not too far off. Anyway, my tourist impulse was in full flower.

This is David and me. He was the brother of a New Yorker friend of mine in Germany, Debbie. Mostly I was by myself in Bremen, but I met up with them toward the end of my visit. The background is the Schnoor, more about which later.
BremenJuly2.83The following is an edited version of what I wrote at the time.

“Rode a morning train from Lüneburg to Hamburg-Harburg. Some punkish fellows sat across from me: colorful pants & leather jackets with steel studs & short, almost crewcut hair with a mandatory earring each. One wore a digital watch.

“At Hamburg-Harburg, I had 40 minutes to wait. I met a fellow, more conventionally dressed and only a little older than I am, who spoke British English so well I wasn’t sure whether he was British or German for a few minutes. Turned out he was from near Lübeck. His book for the ride was an English-language edition of The Lord of the Rings. The German translation, he told me, ‘is rubbish.’ We talked about a number of other things as well. He told me he didn’t like the prospect of Pershing IIs stationed in West Germany, but he thought they were necessary.

“At Bremen I exited the station, got a map, and experienced the first-time rush of a new place. You aren’t tired, you feel open to the world, you want to look at everything you pass by. I crossed downtown Bremen’s large fussgangerplatz, walked by shops and goods and people, and enjoyed the sights and sounds. That kind of rush doesn’t last long, but it’s great while it does.

“I found the Judenherberger, an ugly squarish building between downtown and the industrial Weser riverside. Check-in wasn’t until 1:30, so I sat under a bridge near St. Stephen’s and ate the bread and wurst I brought. The brot was a little dry and the wurst something like raw hamburger, but I needed the sustenance.

“Then I checked in and began wandering. I found the Rathaus first, then the famous 1404 statue of Roland. I spent a good while in Bremen Cathedral (St. Petri Dom zu Bremen), marveling at its intricate, aesthetic wonders, such as the painted pillars and the statues illustrating the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Went to the crypt, thought to be the oldest room in Bremen, dedicated in 1066.

“Sometimes I mulled a bit gloomily that time will sooner or later reduce the cathedral to dust — via nuclear attack in August or 10,000 years of erosion or something. But it’s here, now, and so am I. Before I left, I bought a little book about the cathedral.
Bremen Cathedral“Not long after I left, I spotted a series of white dots painted on the sidewalk, with the words Zum Schnoor –> every 30 or 40 feet to go with them. I followed them to the Schnoor. I’d heard that the Schnoor was the oldest surviving section of the city, and so it seems. The Schnoor is focused on a narrow street of that name, lined with aged shops and other buildings. Some of the side streets are even narrower, barely wide enough for two people to pass.

“En route to a church I never got into because it was always locked, I came across Böttcherstraße. Every ten feet or so is another work by one Bernhard Hoetger, some interesting stuff dating from pre-you-know-who Weimar years. Apparently the Nazis didn’t much like the works, but they survived them and the war. [Brick Expressionism, I’ve read, is the term, at least for some of the buildings.] There was also a small cinema tucked away in the area. Showing that evening: Death in Venice. An Italian movie with German subtitles, probably, or dubbed in German. I decided not to go.

“I walked further afield, near some small city lakes, and then to the Übersee Museum Bremen, near the main train station. It’s an ethnographic museum, complete with huts from New Guinea, a Japanese shrine with a manicured garden and a pond with goldfish, and a elegant Burmese temple. All of the labels were in German, but that didn’t matter much [I experienced something similar some years later at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka.]

“There was a special exhibit of schoolchildren’s paintings: ‘Japanese kids see us and German kids see Japan.’ A funny mix of cultural and political images, mostly, tending toward the stereotypical. My favorite was a Japanese drawing of a German with a grinning Volkswagen for a head, eating sausage and drinking beer. Hitler’s face and swastikas were common, as was Beethoven’s face, and some drawings showed Germany torn between the Stars & Stripes and the Hammer & Sickle.

“After the museum I had dinner at the Restaurant Belgrade. For DM 16, I had an excellent Hungarian goulash, potatoes, salad, bread and beer. Returned to the hostel at about 10, very tired, and went to sleep almost at once.

“At breakfast at the hostel I talked with a Japanese girl who’d been to the Bremen Geothe Institut and who was about to go home. She was pleasant, and showed me postcards of Japan. After checking out, I wandered the streets on the other side of the Weser a while, then at 10 took a harbor cruise.

“It was a busy place, with ships from all over, and vast industrial areas along the banks, including a huge drydock belonging to Krupp, and a Kellogg’s factory with enormous murals of Tony the Tiger and Snap, Crackle & Pop on its side. I couldn’t catch a lot of the narration, but it seemed mostly about ship sizes and carrying capacities, so I didn’t mind.

“Back on land, I visited the church opposite the Dom, Unser Lieben Frauen Kirche, the second-oldest church in the city, and not as ornate as the cathedral. I took a tour of the Rathaus, and as Steve promised, the place has remarkable woodwork. For example, the puti-like faces on some of the chairs managed to have lustful and leering expressions. The Rathaus also has a fine collection of model ships, mostly the 17th-century Bremen fleet, and an assortment of portraits of Holy Roman Emperors.

“As if that wasn’t enough, I then went to the Ludwig Roselius Museum, which houses paintings & furniture & gold & maps from the 17th and 18th centuries. Saw the original black painting of Martin Luther that I’ve seen reproduced a number of other places [Lucas Cranach].

“My energy was low by this time, but I walked some more, returning to the Böttcherstraße at 3 and hearing the chimes of the Glockenspiel House and seeing the rotating woodcarvings of explorers and airmen. Met Debbie and David soon after, and we repaired to a nearby cafe for beer. They’d been there the day. Returned to Lüneburg soon after on a faster direct train, and had dinner together at another Yugoslav restaurant. For DM 14, got Serbian combo of meat, rice and beans, along with beer.”

One more thing. In Bremen, near the Schnoor, I found a memorial I didn’t expect. I made notes about it in my Bremen Cathedral book, which is what I had at hand.
Bremen CathedralUnsere Jüdischen mitbürger

Martha Goldberg
Dr. Adolf Goldberg
Heinrich Rosenblum
Leopold Sinasohn
Selma Swinitzki

Wurden in dieser Stadt in der Nacht vom 9. zum 10.11.1938 ermordet.

Murdered during Kristallnacht, in other words. This is what the plaque looks like. Remarkably, Adolf Goldberg has a Wiki page, which also tells me that the memorial was erected in 1982, only a short time before I saw it.

St. John Cantius, Chicago

On Sunday I visited St. John Cantius, a Catholic parish church in what’s called the River West neighborhood, east of the Kennedy Expressway and west of the North Branch of the Chicago River. It’s easily accessible via the El, which is in fact a subway by the time you get near St. John Cantius.

St. John Cantius, ChicagoThe church was part of a wave of Polish-style Catholic churches built in Chicago more than 100 years ago, as the city local Polish population expanded mightily. I’d seen a few of these churches before — St. Adalbert and St. Stanislaus Kostka, for instance — but not this one.

“Designed by Adolphus Druiding and completed in 1898, St. John Cantius Church took five years to build,” the church web site says. “The imposing 130 ft. tower is readily seen from the nearby Kennedy Expressway.”
St. John Cantius“The unique baroque interior has remained intact for more than a century and is known for both its opulence and grand scale — reminiscent of the sumptuous art and architecture of 18th-century Krakow. In 2012, St. John’s completed an ambitious restoration, returning the lavish interior to its original splendor.”
St. John Cantius, ChicagoSt. John Cantius, ChicagoI also wanted to visit so I could hear a Latin mass, or part of one anyway. According to the church bulletin, I arrived in time for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine High Mass in Latin). Actually I was a little early, so I sat for a while in a back pew and admired the interior, as a pleasant wind blew in through the main doors and on my back, adding additional texture to the experience.

By the time the mass began, the sizable church was fairly full, though not packed, with a diversity of ages. I haven’t seen that many women cover their heads in quite a while, including some elaborate lace coverings.

Soon the church was filled with music. I was sitting in the back and couldn’t see the choir or the other musicians up in the balcony, but I surely did hear them. I’ve had only spotty exposure to sacred music, but that didn’t keeping me from understanding how astonishingly good it was.

Much more impressive, it turned out, than the priests and their Latin, mainly because I wasn’t within hearing range of much of it. Mostly I heard a hum of words, a few of which I could pick out. Not that I would have understood all of it anyway. Some other time at some other mass I’ll sit closer. My impression is that Latin is a pleasing language to hear.

Regarding St. John Cantius’ music, the church says: “Our Sunday Masses regularly feature Gregorian chant, chanted by our schola cantorum and by the congregation. The parishioners of St. John Cantius are intent on preserving the choral traditions of the Roman Rite which gives Gregorian chant ‘pride of place.’

“Additionally, the people of St. John Cantius work to preserve the patrimony of liturgical music that comes from the Renaissance period and from the Viennese choral tradition. But our choirs also sing modern choral works that are consonant with the Roman tradition of sacred music.” More about the church’s music is on this short video.

Wicker Park, The Neighborhood & Wicker Park, The Park

Juneteenth has come around again. We need more holidays in the summer, and that would be a good one, celebrating human freedom.

We went to the city on Sunday, giving me an opportunity to wander around Wicker Park on a warm but not too hot day. I visited both places of that name. Wicker Park’s both a fashionable area — which it was not 30 years ago, when I first lived in Chicago — and the name of a smallish triangular park within the neighborhood.

The intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee is part of the neighborhood, but I didn’t hang around there much this time. Instead, I walked along some of the side streets. Much of the residential North Side of Chicago looks like this in June.
Wicker Park June 2017The handsome Wicker Park Lutheran Church is at 1502 N. Hoyne Ave.
Wicker Park Lutheran ChurchIt was already closed by the time I got there, but the interior looks like this.

The building dates from 1906, though the congregation goes back to 1879. “It boasts a basilica design, with double colonnades and an apse, a style used in ancient Rome for courts of law or places of public assembly,” notes the church web site. “The two towers are based on those of Abbey of Sainte-Trinité (the Holy Trinity), also known as Abbaye aux Dames, in Caen, France, which was built in the 11th century.”

A few blocks to the east is Wicker Park, the park. It isn’t one of Chicago’s great parks, but it is pleasant on a warm summer Sunday, well stocked with people and their dogs enjoying the warm summer Sunday. The park has some trees, a lush garden sporting flowers and bushes, a field house, a modest water fountain, and some open lawn.

There’s also a statue of Charles Gustavus Wicker (1820-1889), complete with stovepipe hat, heavy coat and broom. It’s been in the park since 2006.
Charles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoCharles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoThere’s a plaque at the feet of Wicker that asserts that he was an important figure in the development of this part of Chicago. In fact, it’s a lot like a press release in bronze, this plaque. A sample: “The broom symbolizes his initiative and readiness to take personal responsibility. He, and people like him, established Chicago, where all who truly do their best will continue to make this unique community a place of opportunity with justice, freedom, and equality for everyone.”

About Charles and his brother Joel Wicker, the Chicago Park District says: “In 1870, when businessmen and developers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker began constructing drainage ditches and laying out streets in their subdivision, they donated a four-acre parcel of land to the city to be used as a public park.

“Fencing the triangular site to keep cows out, the city created an artificial lake in the center of the park, surrounding it with lawn and trees. As the Wickers had hoped, the area developed into a fashionable middle- and upper-class neighborhood.”

Further discussion of Wicker and his brother is at the Chicagoist. A few years ago, the statue fell down — was knocked down — tumbled down somehow, and there’s a story about that as well. The statue was restored, of course. Oddly enough, the sculptor who created the statue of Wicker, and pushed for it to be in the park, was a great-granddaughter of his, one Nancy Wicker, who died just last year at over 90.

In one corner of the park, a troupe called Theatre-Hikes was doing a low-budget version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No sets, just costumes. I sat down for a few minutes to watch. I’m no expert on the play — in fact, this is the only live performance I’ve seen of any of it — put I was able (later) to pin down that I’d arrived during Act 3, Scene 1.

Here’s Bottom.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park

Titania and Bottom. Both actors were good, and able to ham it up when the play called for it, to the amusement of all.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park 2017

Titania:
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricoks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glowworms’ eyes
To have my love to bed and to arise.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

The Old Cathedral of St. Louis, formally the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, is near the Gateway Arch. In February 1990, after visiting the Arch, I took a look at the Old Cathedral, which dates from the 1830s. It’s a fine old church (recently restored, so I suppose I should take another look someday).

A man I met there briefly told me, in so many words, that this one was nice, but you should see the “New” Cathedral of St. Louis, which is a few miles away in the city. He also told me how to get there. So I went, even though I was racing a winter storm to get back to Chicago. (The storm won, and I spent the night in a Normal, Ill., motel room.)

At least, that’s how I think it happened. I’m not completely sure. But I know I went that day. I entered the cathedral, shook off the cold, and let my eyes adjust to the relative dim. I was astonished by what I saw.

On May 26 this year, Lilly and I paid the place a visit en route home. I’ll never be as astonished — I had no idea what I was going to see beforehand — but I’ll always be impressed. Photography barely does the church justice, my photos even less so.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisAfter seeing the cathedral for the first time, I wrote: “It isn’t necessary to cross oceans to savior the majesty of large-scale mosaic art, vaultingly expressed in a cathedral. You only need to visit the Cathedral of St. Louis, about 10 minutes west of that city’s well-known Arch. Composed of millions of tesserae — tiles of stone or glass — the mosaics of the cathedral dome and walls offer visitors a pageantry of Christian saints, symbols and stories rendered in hundreds of subtle hues. Its architecture is deeply reminiscent of the great Byzantine cathedrals of Italy and points East.”

I based that on what I’d read about (and pictures seen of) places like Ravenna. I thoughtlessly did not go there when I was in Italy, even though I knew about it. Ah, well. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis will have to do for now.

The mosaics are especially easy to see in detail just above the entrance.

Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe basilica’s web site says: “George D Barnett of Barnett, Haynes, and Barnett of Saint Louis designed the entire structure of the Cathedral, including a circular Sacristy on the north end which was not built when the main structure was completed in 1914. The semicircular Sacristy which was eventually built was designed by George John Magualo of Magualo and Quick.

“Barnett also designed the main Altar, the baldachino, and the Lower Sanctuary mosaics. The mosaics were installed by the Gorham Company of New York in 1916. Barnett also designed the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and its mosaics which were installed by Gorham in 1916 and 1917.”

As for the fact that it is now the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, which it was not in 1990, the web site notes: “On April 4, 1997, Pope John Paul II honored the Cathedral of Saint Louis by making it a Basilica, a place of worship of special distinction. As a Basilica, the Cathedral displays two special symbols — the tintinnabulum or bell and the ombrellino or umbrella.”

A warm spring day is a better time to take exterior shots. Also impressive.
Cathedral Basilica of St. LouisThe last time I saw the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis was in 2005 (I think), when I took Ann — and she was small enough to pick up when she didn’t want to walk. I know I took Lilly at a similar age, and showed the place to Yuriko, when we visited St. Louis in 2000. In any case, those visits were too long ago. Good to make it back.

The Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago

The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, mentioned yesterday, is on route Illinois 59 in Bartlett. As I was preparing for my visit, looking at Google Maps, I noticed something else similiarly interesting just a few miles to the north, also on Illinois 59 in Bartlett: the Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago. A Jain temple, in other words.

This too had escaped my notice all the years I’ve lived in the northwest suburbs. I figured if I were going to be out in Bartlett to see the monumental mandir, I might as well drop by to see what the Jains have built. So I did.

Jain Society of Metropolitan ChicagoThe Jain temple, next to a large parking lot on an even larger bit of land, isn’t as massive as the BAPS structure, but it’s pleasing to the eye, and made all the more interesting because it’s such a rare thing here in North America. That despite what Wiki asserts: “The most significant time of Jain immigration was in the early 1970s. The United States has since become a center of the Jain diaspora [citation needed].” This particular temple was built in the early 1990s.
The Jain Society of Metropolitan ChicagoThe temple interior is essentially a single room with rows of eye-level effigies along the walls, and some other ornamentation. It all reminded me how little I remembered about Jainism.

I studied Jainism briefly — a class or two — in Survey of Eastern Religions, as taught by the highly learned Charles Hambrick, but that was 35 years ago (a professor emeritus these days, but last I checked still with us). Mainly I remember the strong emphasis on pacifism, which often has the unfortunate side effect of inspiring nearby and less pacific people to acts of persecution. If indeed the Jain diaspora is focused in this country, I hope they’re doing well.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Chicago

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a monumental Hindu temple on 27 acres in suburban Bartlett, Ill., is less than 10 miles from where I’ve lived for most of the 21st century so far. How is it that I never knew about it until a few weeks ago? You imagine that you know your part of the world pretty well, but it’s just a conceit.

BAPS, incidentally, stands for Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha, so the full name of the site would be the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Chicago. I can see why it’s abbreviated. I can’t pretend to know how the group that built the temple fits into the galaxy of Hinduism, though I’ve read that it’s a relatively modern movement, originating in Gujarat state. I wouldn’t mind knowing more, but whatever knowledge I take away from reading about the details of Hinduism tends to evaporate in a short time, sorry to say.

The suburban Chicago temple is just one of a half-dozen such in North America. The others are in metro Atlanta, Houston, LA, and Toronto, and in central New Jersey. Judging by their pictures, each is about as monumental as the metro Chicago temple, though Chicago’s supposed to be the largest. In fact, it’s the largest Hindu temple in North America, at least according to one source. Even if that’s not so important, the place does impress with its size.

On a sunny but not exactly warm day recently, I drove to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir for a look. The structure, finished only in 2004, is stunning.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir ChicagoBAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir ChicagoThe exterior is limestone, the interior marble and granite. The temple’s web site has a sketch of the structure’s creation, which I’ve edited a bit.

The Carrara marble was quarried in Italy and the limestone was quarried in Turkey.
From there it was shipped to Kandla in western India.

The material was then transported to Rajasthan, where it was hand-carved by more than 3,000 craftsman over a period of 22 months.

The finished pieces were then shipped to a final location for polishing, packaging and numbering before being shipped back to the port in Kandla.

It took two months for a container ship to journey from India to the US.

Upon reaching Virginia, the containers were put on a train to Chicago and then transported to the project site.

Upon arrival at the site, the stones were grouped and classified based on a detailed database of each piece.

The pieces were then assembled together like a massive, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The finished products of rich carvings are a testimony to the exquisite skills of craftsmen, aided by superb logistics and engineering.

I’ll go along with that last sentence. Even though I didn’t understand the details of what I was looking at, I admire the artistic and engineering skill it must have taken to create the thing.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir ChicagoBAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir ChicagoBAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Chicago

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Chicago

Next to the mandir is the haveli, a fine building in its own right, featuring some exceptionally intricate wood carving. It serves a number of functions. For my purposes, it included a visitors center, gift shop (with a few postcards) and the entrance to the mandir, which is open to the public.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir ChicagoBAPS Shri Swaminarayan Haveli ChicagoThe mandir is accessible via an underground tunnel from the haveli. Exhibits about Hinduism line the wall of the tunnel. The inside of the mandir, marbled and quiet, is an astonishing forest of carved columns and sculpted walls. No photography allowed, but of course pictures do exist.

I might not ever make to India. Can’t go everywhere. Fortunately, a striking piece of India is within easy driving distance.