Office buildings definitely dominate downtown Chicago architecture, but smack dab in the center of the Loop there are three religious buildings worth a visit. While this is just a beginner's course on Chicago's religious architecture in the downtown area, we hope it inspires a larger exploration.
St. Peter's Church is most recognizable from its three-story tall crucifix that reigns over Madison Street just west of Clark (110 W. Madison St.). Rather than stained glass windows adorning the interior, marble statues and bas reliefs line the interior of this Catholic sanctuary. You will find the depictions of the life and fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi, whose order of friars reside at the church. The Carrara marble windows are faux - not because of fake marble but because they really aren't windows. The church offers a little taste of Europe smack dab in the financial center.
Just around the corner is the Chicago Loop Synagogue (16 S. Clark St.). To enter the building you will walk under the bronze sculpture, entitled "Hands of Peace" by Henri Azaz. On the "Loop Interior Architectural Tour" with my company, Chicago Detours, we walk by the building and tour guests often ask about this curvy metal form. Surrounding it are letters that spell a blessing in both Hebrew and English, but the true beauty of this space is really seen from inside (call to make an appointment).
Inside the entire eastern wall of the sanctuaryis a work of stained glass art by Abraham Rattner. Rattner arranged ancient Hebraic symbols in a harmony of light and color. Both the window and Azaz's sculpture were conceived with the architecture of the Synagogue, which held it's first services in this building in the fall of 1958.
The very centrally located Chicago Temple Building could probably be considered the most overlooked. Though it's located right on Daley Plaza, you wouldn't believe how many guests on the aforementioned walking tour say they've passed by it a thousand times and never stepped inside.
This 1920s skyscraper has a Neo-Gothic exterior with a spire on top. The entire thing is owned by the First United Methodist Church, and they chose the name "Chicago Temple" to suggest that the building housed more than the church. While the sanctuary fills the bottom floor, the other basement houses the Silk Road Theater, and most the levels above are offices for various businesses. Anyone from the public can easily pop into the sanctuary seven days a week to marvel at the grand Gothic arches and stained glass windows. The church also has a Chapel in the Sky, officially the highest place of worship in the world, and they offer free tours of it every day of the week at 2pm.
Imagine, these spiritual spaces exist among the major financial operations and the hustle and bustle of Chicago's Loop.