The Gothic Revival Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago on Michigan Avenue

I love the Gothic Revival Fourth Presbyterian Church at 126 E. Chestnut Street. It was designed by Ralph Adams Cram and Howard Van Doren Shaw and built between 1912- 1914. The style is a combination of English and French Gothic.

The walls are built of Bedford limestone from Indiana. This limestone was also used to build the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Pentagon, the National Cathedral in Washington and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

The principal architect of Fourth Church was Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), America’s leading Gothic revival architect, best known for his work on the massive Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and also the chapel at West Point Military Academy. Fourth Church is not a “copy” of any one building but instead combines what Mr. Cram saw as the best of English Gothic and French Gothic styles of the late medieval design elements that he observed when he studied in Europe in the late 1880s. Cram designed and built the sanctuary. The sanctuary seats about 1200 people when the balconies are filled. There are four worship services on Sunday: 8:00, 9;30, 11:00 and a jazz service at 4:00 pm.

The pipe organ is the largest in Chicago with 8343 pipes; the longest pipes are 32 feet tall. Most of the pipes are in the 3-story tall otgan chamber in the front of the church, shown below. There are more pipes in the balcony and above the Great East Window.

Prominent Midwestern architect Howard Van Doren Shaw designed the parish buildings (the Tudor-style structures surrounding the courtyard) including the parish house, cloister, manse, and garth (south along Michigan Avenue).

In the middle of the courtyard is “The Chidren’s Fountain; a gift from Howard Van Doren Shaw.

The church building is the oldest structure on Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River with the exception of the Chicago Water Tower, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

4th Presbyterian Chicago 2004-11 img 2602.jpg

Since 1914, more than 8 million people have entered the beautiful church under the carved stone tympanum over the Michigan Avenue entrance. The Fourth Presbyterian Church congregation was founded in 1871 and occupied two earlier church buildings before moving to Michigan Avenue.

Below, you can see the main area of the church called the nave from the Latin word for ship. The ceiling looks like an inverted ship. The beautiful ceiling canvases were painted in 1914 by Frederick C. Bartlett.

Bartlett donated Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon at La Grande Jatte” to The Art Institute along with his other holdings by Cezanne, Gauguin, van Gogh and Picasso.

On the top of the side-aisle piers, look for the fourteen 7 foot tall hand-carved angels.

The Great East Window in the Fourth Church Sanctuary was designed and made by renowned stained glass artist Charles J. Connick of Boston and dedicated in 1930. Its stone tracery around the glass is reminiscent of the traditional Jesse tree.

The figure in the first Panel is Saint Matthew. Saint Peter is in the second panel with his book and keys. The third figure is Saint Mark with the winged lion above his head. The fifth is Saint Luke, then Paul and lastly, Saint John.

The vine, leaves, and grapes provide a background for the large figures, which illustrate the growth of Christianity from the four major prophets through the four evangelists, accompanied by the commanding figures of Peter and Paul.

East Window

The Great East Window, also known as the Nettie Fowler McCormick Memorial Window, was given to the church by the children of Nettie Fowler McCormick, widow of reaper inventor Cyrus McCormick. The McCormick family contributed almost half of the funds for building the Michigan Avenue sanctuary and Parish House facilities. The bottom of the window panels reads “In Loving Memory of Nettie Fowler McCormick 1835–1923.”

In 1937, Fourth Church gave the east window that had been installed at the time the Sanctuary was built (1914) to the Roseland Presbyterian Church at 11200 S. State Street. That original window, done in the style of the grisaille windows that are along the aisles of the Fourth Church Sanctuary, can still be seen at the Roseland church, which is today known as Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.

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