Are you fascinated by church architecture or interested in learning more about religion and faith? Chicago has a lot to offer, with hundreds of houses of worship, top affiliated universities and a deep, faith-based history.
Chicago's Iconic Churches
Chicago is known for its beautiful architecture, and many of the most incredible displays are the city's churches and other houses of worship. These structures are not only esthetically pleasing, but they also serve as a gateway to the immigrant past of Chicago. There are far too many to suggest, but here are a few gems to get you started:
- Chicago Temple: This 21-story building next to Daley Plaza houses the very first United Methodist Church of Chicago, the oldest church in the city.
- St. Peter's Church: Smack dab in the middle of the Loop, this church stands out thanks to its three-story crucifix atop the building.
- St. Mary of the Angels: Located in the Bucktown neighborhood, this Italian Romanesque-style church was established by Polish immigrants in 1897.
- Holy Family Church: Founded by the Jesuits in 1857, it is the second oldest church in Chicago and is located in University Village.
- St. Alphonsus: Revered for its Gothic-style construction, spacious veranda and imposing tower, this Lakeview landmark was completed in the 1890s and largely served the German community that lived in the area.
Chicago has many affiliated colleges that have become historically significant attractions in the city. DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the country, was first founded by the Vincentians in 1898 to serve Roman Catholic children of immigrants. It has since grown into an acclaimed liberal arts college, and its theater school is considered one of the best in the nation. Be sure to visit St. Vincent de Paul Parish to hear the sounds of the Lyon and Healy organ, and then head over to see the remnants of the former McCormick Theological Seminary, a row of now privately owned homes that line Fullerton Avenue just east of the train tracks.
A little further north is Loyola University of Chicago, a Jesuit university founded in 1870. It is now the largest Jesuit university in the U.S. Loyola is home to the Saint Joseph College Seminary, which serves the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago; and the Jesuit First Studies Program, one of only three such programs in the country. Make sure you stop by the Madonna della Strada chapel, situated right on the lakefront, with Lake Michigan right at its front steps.
Hear the Sounds of Gospel
Gospel was born in Chicago in the near south Bronzeville neighborhood. The first gospel choir was assembled at Ebenezer Baptist Church and the popularity of the music sparked a gospel choir boom in many other churches across the city.
The best place to hear traditional and contemporary gospel is at the Chicago Gospel Festival, held every summer in Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center and Ellis Park. But even if you're not visiting in June, there are still plenty of ways to hear the melodies of this musical genre.
The League of Chicago Theatres offers a list of shows and special events dedicated to gospel. Or you can enjoy a two-hour themed concert on the water with Spirit Cruises Gospel Lunch Cruise (select dates). There are also dozens of concerts at churches throughout the city, so check out chicagomusic.org to find out who is singing where.
Unique Chicago Temples
There are a number of intricately designed and rare temples sprinkled throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. These temples are linked to certain religions, but they welcome people from all walks of life.
One of the most well-known temples is the Frank Lloyd Wright Unity Temple, the only surviving public building from the architect's prairie period. While traditional places of worship were built with marble, or similar fine stone, this temple was made from concrete, a material reserved for factories and warehouses, not churches. Still, this bold design has now become a significant architectural accomplishment.
In Wilmette, north of downtown, you will find the Baha'i Temple, one of only seven such temples in the world. The unique structure represents unity and invites prayer, and consists of nine sides surrounded by gardens and fountains. On your visit, you can tour the interior of the temple, watch a choir performance or experience a prayer service.
Southwest of the city in Lemont is the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. This structure has been at the forefront of traditional Indian prayer for more than 30 years, and features some of the most interesting towers and statues around. Group tours of the temple are available by reservation any day of the week.
Tours of Religious Sites
With so many churches, synagogues, schools and structures in Chicago, it is hard to know which to visit. But with the help of trained guides, you can get a tailored tour of some of the top religious architecture and attractions in the city.
The Chicago History Museum offers a number of themed tours that change monthly, including The Synogogue Speaks tour; while My Kind of Town Tours and Events features a Houses of Worship tour around Chicago. The Chicago Cultural Center often hosts a Magnificent Churches Tour that takes you to four of the city's most fascinating religious structures.
Click here to find more tour information.