Church Architecture Reflects Members Who Built Them

Article excerpt

Byline: John Chase Daily Herald Staff Writer

Few traveling the world over will come to DuPage County to tour the architecture of the area's churches.

None have the flying buttresses of Notre Dame in Paris. They don't match the large carvings and colorful marble of Baroque structures that dot Europe.

Few could even match the dozens of ornate statues at Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago's West Loop.

The reason is simple: Architectural originality is rare in newer communities.

Instead, the look of churches in DuPage County tend to mirror the modest lifestyles most people look for when they move here.

And to many, that's just fine.

"People moved and wanted to start over. They wanted to be cleaned up and refreshed," said the Rev. David Ritt of Trinity Lutheran Church in Villa Park.

There are copies of the Gothic or Greek styles, the common A-frame and a newer more circular style.

However, DuPage churches aren't grand ventures of architectural experimentation, said Wheaton-based architect Ed Green.

"We're not blessed with masterful architects," Green admits. "There aren't a bunch of very elegant, very nice churches around here."

Simplicity and organization takes precedence over ornamentation.

They're functional for those who preach and listen.

Take Trinity Lutheran Church in Villa Park, a perfect example of one of the many churches that dot DuPage.

Built in 1955, the basic limestone A-frame at 300 S. Ardmore Ave. has little ornamentation and is filled with blond pews.

"It's just has a very generic look to it," said the church's pastor, Ritt said. "It's more contemporary than cathedral."

Common, however, does not translate to insignificant.

The church reflects the suburbanites' dreams: moving away from big-city life and toward a new society.

"It's so simple and warm," Ritt said. "There's peace through simplicity and that should also be reflected in the theology of the day."

Though many places of worship in the suburbs were built after World War II, historic chapels tend to anchor older communities.

The clean lines of the white steeple at First Church of Lombard welcomes visitors to the historic downtown.

Built in 1870, it now is known as the Maple Street Chapel and has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Once isolated in the prairie along a dirt road that supported wagon trains, its decorative windows and towering steeple was a perfect example of the Gothic Revival style popularized in the 1840s.

Elements of the style, exemplified by the well-known Houses of Parliament buildings in England and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, also decorated churches throughout DuPage County.

Unlike other styles that relied on arches and other decorative structural features for support, the Gothic Revival resurrected ornamental elements that decorated Medieval churches.

A high steeple, arched windows, and repetition of ornamentation characterize the Lombard church, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Naperville and other Gothic Revival structures.

But that doesn't mean these Gothic Revival buildings look alike. They merely incorporate some of the elements that characterize the style. …