A Religious Experience - Part Two

Holy Trinity Cathedral
1121 North Leavitt Street
Chicago, IL

Lest this series become completely inundated with Catholic churches, for my second entry in this series I decided to visit an Orthodox church -- one that had a great deal of influence on my decision to embark on this project in the first place. Earlier this month, when I went to see the Louis Sullivan exhibit at the Cultural Center, I discovered that among Sullivan's few remaining structures in the city is Holy Trinity Cathedral, an Orthodox church in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood, designed by Sullivan in 1899. I thought it would be fitting to go visit it, having seen the exhibit, and it occurred to me that if I was going to visit one historic church, I might as well turn it into a local tourism project and see as many as I could.

Construction was completed on Holy Trinity in 1903, and was financed in large part by Czar Nicholas II.

Atypical of Sullivan's usual style on the outside, the church is meant to echo traditional provincial Russian architecture, including such features as an octagonal dome and bell tower. Unfortunately, it is difficult to see the exterior of the building due to the surrounding foliage.

Sullivan's design sensibility is apparent in small details, and in the elaborate scroll work and geometric motifs decorating the interior. One can also see in this photo the extensive damage to the exterior of the church. The stucco on the facade is badly deteriorated, as are much of the wooden window trimmings. I felt so badly for them that I contributed $5 to their restoration fund.

The interior of the church is particular evocative of Sullivan's style, where virtually no inch of space is left devoid of ornament. The church is only open for visitors on Saturday afternoons, but it was clearly the ideal time to be there, as the lighting was perfect. I was particularly impressed with the iconostasis, the icon-adorned screen that separates the sanctuary from the nave of the church. Only clergy may pass through the doors in the center and enter the sanctuary to conduct masses. All Orthodox churches face east, and the priest conducts the ceremony facing the altar, with his back to the congregation.

Elaborate geometric patterns adorn many of the interior surfaces, including the stained glass windows.

Orthodoxy is rife with symbolism, and the veneration of icons is a fundamental practice within the church.

Even if the cathedral was much smaller than expected (I think the application of the name "cathedral" to the structure is a little superfluous), and a little run-down, it was still worth the journey to a neighborhood I'd never before set foot in to visit. Not only was I able to witness the scope and breadth of Sullivan's talents, I was able to experience a taste of a religion with which I had never previously had contact. It was a good reinforcement of why I started this project in the first place -- to experience new things and see more of my beloved city. I haven't yet picked my next target, but I'm already looking forward to it, wherever it may be.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I love this church, and I'm sad I missed it--it's only 10 blocks from my old apartment!