Chicago's Magnificent Churches Tour

The Chicago Cultural Center is the home of many tours.  The latest one I have been waiting to take is the Magnificent Churches Tour.  Four times a year, they load up a bus and visit four of the areas most interesting religious structures.  Our guide said they could tour for over 2 years and never see the same church twice.  The churches are never promised ahead of time because one can never tell when there is a funeral or a wedding scheduled so it is a bit of a surprise where you will go.  This time three of the 4 were Catholic Churches, but that is not always the case.

This tour really reminded me of a church tour I have been on before only without the jet-lag.  I did 14 churches in 11 days in Italy and I have to say...Chicago's got it goin' on.  Of course the Cathedrals were amazing in Rome, but, people, you have got to see the architecture and artwork here as well! For a mere $35 we were able to see Chicago history in a living time machine.  The preservation of these churches is amazing.

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The first church we visited was the Mother Cabrini Chapel.  It is now called The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini. It is located on 2520 North Lakeview Ave.  It had been closed for nearly 10 years for renovations and we were lucky enough that it has recently opened in time for us to see it. Cardinal George presided over the dedication mass and reopening on September 30.  Originally the chapel had been built into the Columbus Hospital.  To imagine a chapel this large in a hospital is shocking.

Mother Cabrini is the Patron Saint of Immigrants.  She is the 1st American saint and was of great help to all struggling Italians when they arrived and various other ethnic groups.  Unfortunately and ironically, to most of us, the modern name Cabrini represents crime and violence and "DON'T GO THERE!" thoughts.  But Mother Cabrini had an undying dedication to the underprivileged.  She was very motherly and was instrumental in opening 67 institutions of care, meaning schools and hospitals.

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The most noticeable thing for me when walking into the chapel is the magnificent color on the walls.   Contrary to popular belief that churches are supposed to be light and airy...and beige, the brilliant red color totally showcases the stained glass windows and enhances the brilliant colors in the gorgeous murals.

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As I just said, CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT THIS IS THE CHAPEL IN A HOSPITAL?  Sorry to yell, but seriously?  All four walls have a round stained glass window and this gorgeous red color. The chapel is in the shape of a cruciform or cross.

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The ceiling is stunning with 4 large murals depicting Mother Cabrini's life, such as who she helped, how she helped them and then her canonization. The 12 small round windows are the 12 apostles and the coat of arms are the popes who sent her to the US and who canonized her.

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Notice the Statue of Liberty, the American Flag, the immigrants, and the ships in the background.

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Her relationships with the Pope and him directing her.

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And finally her beatification and sainthood. The photo below is the original organ from Italy.

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Outside of the chapel is a museum.  On the walls hang a photo of the original sketch of the chapel.

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Her original bedroom where she lived and died has been preserved and many photos of her Chicago religious life are on display.

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As is her clothing...

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As you can see I was completely taken by this chapel.  The gallery attached will show you the other churches we visited, Saint Mary of the Lake and St. Ignatius, which were none too shabby either, but THIS is a MUST SEE. No passport needed.  Today it is a stand alone ministry.  It is open M-F 10-3 and Saturday 9-5 with a 4:00 Mass and Sunday 9-3 with a 10:00 Mass.  Guided tours can be requested.  The woman who led ours had pages of interesting information. The church is located just northwest of Lincoln Park Zoo.

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And what was the 4th church, you might ask?  A Cambodian Monastery.  They do not have enough money to open their own stand alone monastery, so it is in a neighborhood in a single family home.  After removing our shoes, we were able to sit and listen to the monks talk of being sent here to help the poor and bring peace to the suffering. Sound familiar?  only 100 years later...

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Chicago is rich with many religions, religious art, and religious history. If we visit other places, we can't help but have an better understanding of each other.  I couldn't help but have the hymn in my head all day that goes:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;   

 ♫  All Are Welcome, All are welcome, All are welcome in this place. ♫

Enjoy the rest of the gallery... the beautiful coffered ceilings, stained glass windows, marble statues, columns, original wood floors, etc.  and the art, art, and more art.

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  • Great article!

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Thanks so much!

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