AUSTIN — There’s no shortage of historic churches on the West Side, and this weekend some of the most stunning parishes, chapels and basilicas in the area will be included among the buildings that will open their doors for Open House Chicago.
Open House Chicago is an annual citywide festival sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Center that welcomes visitors to explore the city’s diverse history through the 350 plus architectural wonders scattered from Pullman to Lawndale to Rogers Park.
The festival is set for Saturday and Sunday and will allow visitors to have a “behind-the-scenes” look at some of the gorgeous architectural masterpieces they may have admired from afar but have never stepped inside to appreciate up close.
On the West Side, the festival will include buildings like Nichols Tower, the Austin Town Hall Cultural Center and of course the area’s historic churches. Some of the churches welcoming visitors for Open House Chicago are:
Third Unitarian Church,
Where: 301 N. Mayfield Ave.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
The Third Unitarian Church was founded in 1868, but the current building began construction in 1936 after a devastating fire destroyed the original church 40 years prior.
The building was designed by Paul Schweikher and features a straightforward brick and wood construction that is considered to be an exemplary church built in a modern architectural style.
The interior of the church is decorated with ceramic portrait murals depicting figures including Gandhi, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Jane Addams and Abraham Lincoln.
Fraternité Notre Dame Shrine of Our Lady of Frechou
Where: 502 N. Central Ave.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
This church was restored by the Catholic religious order Fraternite Notre Dame after sitting vacant for over 30 years.
The building was initially the home to Chicago’s largest Methodist congregation when it was known then as the Gammon United Methodist Church.
The church is now the a seminary and the Mother House for the order, which also operates a soup kitchen and food pantry many days throughout the week.
According to Sister Mary who belongs to the order, the century-old church has been restored so that it is more splendid than ever.
“It is very, very beautiful. It’s an old building. I don’t think they build them like that anymore,” Sister Mary said.
Assumption Greek Orthodox
Where: 601 S. Central Ave.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Closed Sunday
Assumption Greek Orthodox Church was built in the Byzantine style in 1937.
According to the church’s Father Dimitri, the church is built in the Orthodox Christian tradition of art and architecture so that each aspect of the building is designed with an aesthetic intention that ties into some religious significance for the church.
Each visual feature is created with the intention of helping to deliver visitors to salvation in heaven, Father Dimitri said.
“There’s symbolism in every element of the church,” Father Dimitri said. “I appreciate even in those little details of how the church is built. Everything is there for a reason.”
Father Dimitri said he appreciates the cruciform layout of the building, which gives the church the shape of the cross. The iconic green dome of the building sits above the center where the cross intersects.
“I think people that come to our church will be very moved by the beauty, by how majestic it is. Our community does a very good job taking care of the building,” Father Dimitri said.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica and National Shrine
Where: 3121 W. Jackson Blvd.
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Closed Sunday
This building is one of the city’s three basilicas and was completed in 1902.
The basilica was built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style and features a stunning 80-foot vaulted ceiling made of white marble.
At the helm of the massive church is an English Baroque style steeple that is easily distinguishable from the rest of the building’s architecture.
New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church
Where: 4301 W. Washington Blvd.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday
New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church has a long history in the area but only acquired the building in 1993. The building is over a century old and once belonged to an Irish Catholic community, which is reflected in much of the art and architecture still living there.
But a major initiative for the church now is to incorporate art and architecture that represents the majority black congregation and the current demographic of the East Garfield Park neighborhood.
“People who’ve been coming around, they see the development around the African American religious art that we’ve been developing,” said Josephine Hatch-Skipper who is the church’s site coordinator for the festival.
The church has now installed a trilogy of stained glass windows that speaks to the trials and tribulations experienced by generations of black people in America.
The oldest was installed in 1999 and invokes the Great Migration and references a scene from the 1977 miniseries Roots, which follows seven generations of black life from Africa through slavery and northward migration.
In 2000 the church installed the Maafa Remembrance window. “Maafa,” the Swahili word for a great tragedy, is depicted in this window as hundreds of African bodies stacked into a slave ship to be sold in the New World.
The latest addition to the church is the Sankofa Peace Window which was installed in February this year and depicts child martyrs throughout history from the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 to Laquan McDonald and Hadiya Pendleton who lost their lives to violence in Chicago.
Between the newer pieces of art and the older Roman Catholic architectural features, murals and windows, Hatch-Skipper said the church has an eclectic mix of art that represents the union between the past and present congregations.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.