Exploring a Downtown Chicago Religious Buildings

Earlier this summer, I had the joy of being guided around the Chicago Temple by our director Amanda Scotese.  Those of you who have joined us for the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour have caught just a glimpse of what this marvelous skyscraper affords in history and architectural gems.  Now we’re getting ready for our fall rendition of this Exclusive Tour of the Chicago Temple Building, this Saturday at 5pm, and we’d like to explore via this post some other downtown Chicago religious buildings.

Our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour passes two other places of worship. I decided to give these downtown Chicago religious buildings more than a glance.  So I took a delightfully rainy fall afternoon as an excuse to roam these hallowed grounds.

St. Peter’s Church

downtown Chicago religious buildings St. Peter's Church
St. Peter’s may be the most easily spotted of the downtown Chicago religious buildings. Photo Credit: Jyoti Srivastava

First stop was St. Peter’s Church.  You might know it as that three-story tall crucifix that reigns over Madison Street just west of Clark (110 W. Madison St.).  “Christ of the Loop” was designed by Latvian sculptor Arvid Strauss. Chicago artist J. Watts physically crafted the sculpture. It’s been here since 1953.

Rather than stained glass windows, the interior of the sanctuary is lined with marble statues and bas reliefs of the life and fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi, whose order of friars reside at the church. Carrara marble faux windows lift the eye upon entering the sanctuary. “To Know Your Pain,” pictured here, shows the story of St. Francis receiving the Stigmata. The somber effect of these marble windows on the glorious space is remarkable. It reminds one of Italy without that pesky trans-Atlantic flight. You can even get near the relics of the 13th-century Italian saints of Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi. Proving the Chicago Detours approach to travel here: you don’t need to leave Chicago for the delights of Europe or elsewhere.

Loop Synagogue

Just around the corner is the Chicago Loop Synagogue (16 S. Clark St.). A bronze sculpture titled “Hands of Peace” by Henri Azaz adorns the facade. The letters spell out a blessing in both Hebrew and English. But the true beauty of this space is really seen from inside.

loop synagogue tour
Photo credit: Jyoti Srivastava

Inside the entire eastern wall of the sanctuary has some of the most marvelous stained glass windows I have ever seen. (This is coming from a woman who has roamed much of France in adoration of churches.) “Let There Be Light” is a composition of ancient Hebraic symbols arranged in a harmony of light and glass. Abraham Rattner‘s windows, like Azaz’s sculptures, were conceived with the architecture of the Synagogue, which held it’s first services in this building in the fall of 1958. The windows would follow two years later.

Because of the nature of windows in general as well as the grand scale of these specifically, photos simply do not do Rattner’s brilliance justice. I did find a video clip,  Let There Be Light, courtesy of WTTW that gets as close as I consider possible to the real thing. I hope that it has the same effect on you as it did on me; it got me to the Synagogue to see them for myself.

I was also struck by the Ark, where the scrolls of the Torah are kept, the larger-than-me menorah, and the closeness of it all. The room here is only as wide as the window itself and makes for an intimate encounter with the sanctuary.

Imagine, these other worlds of spirituality exist just blocks from major financial operations and the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s Loop.

–Elizabeth S. Tieri, Tour Guide


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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