Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This past weekend, I did...

...something I had never done before: I walked downtown and wandered around aimlessly with no purpose whatsoever.

It was great.

How many times have I been downtown? A gazillion. And how many times have I had the luxury of not needing to be anywhere at any time and just admire the buildings? Never.

Take that gargoyle, or whatever it is, across the street from St. Peter's in the Loop Catholic Church on Madison. Someone went to a lot of time and expense to put that there. And I had never noticed it before -- I was always in too great a hurry to ever look up and just check it out.

Speaking of St. Peter's, I'd often passed it by and thought to myself, I really should go in there some time and see it. It looks so cool from the outside.

I think I remember the first time I walked past St. Peter's and noticed how "urban" it was. After moving to Chicago 35 years ago, I still can't get over how the architecture in the city is so different from where I grew up in the suburbs. And St. Peter's is a classic example: flanked by two other buildings and extending right out to the sidewalk, it isn't like the free-standing churches you'd see elsewhere. (Where, for example, is the massive asphalt parking lot/playground?) Because of its mostly flat facade, you could easily walk right past it without even realizing it was a church at all.

As I ventured inside on Saturday I immediately recalled a post, "Chicago’s Holy Corner," from one of my favorite blogs, A Chicago Sojourn:

Wedged between two adjoining buildings, St. Peter's Catholic Church gives the impression that it was carved out from a solid rock face. Solid, planar walls contrast startlingly with deeply hewn entrances and window openings, creating one of the best facades in the city. Unlike the contemporaneous Queen of Heaven mausoleum, this 1953 church (architects: Vitzhum and Burns) shows a mix of modern and historical influences.

A three-story high crucifix by Austrian sculptor Arvid Strauss completes this compelling composition.

Deprived of natural light, the designers had to turn to other tricks to give the space a sense of holiness. Illuminated sculpture niches serve in place of stained glass windows, portraying the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Or from a book he cites, Heavenly City:

Its "starkly modern, planar design" is not without "some Art Deco and Gothic elements." (The altar was covered in red for Passion Sunday.)

As for that crucifix, it's "comparable to a visual loudspeaker, trying its best to be seen amidst the tall buildings and the hustle and bustle from the streets below."

"Since it abuts buildings on its east and west walls, only the window over the main door is pierced by natural light. In place of large clerestory windows, the architects substituted bas-relief Botticino marble scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi."

St. Francis of Assisi? Why not St. Peter? Oh, well -- whatever -- just go with it. It's a cool church.

Next: Chicago Temple.

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