Architecture of Houses of Worship | St. Louis Public Radio

Architecture of Houses of Worship

Dec 7, 2012

It's that time of year when many of us celebrate Christmas or Hanukah. How many of us look inside or outside our place of worship and notice that we are worshiping in an architecturally significant edifice?

Mary Stiritz says in her book, Historical Churches and Synagogues of St.Louis, "There are many ways to look at ecclesiastical buildings: method of construction, materials, ornament, stained glass, etc. The rich variety of styles chosen for religious buildings in St. Louis generally followed the national trends which were fashionable in any given period."

Here is a list of just a few architecturally significant religious buildings in our area in no particular chronological order. Some are no longer used for religious purposes.

The "Old Cathedral” Basilica of St. Louis was built in 1764 on property set aside by our city founders, Pierre Lacelde and Auguste Chouteau. Architects George Morton and Joseph Laveille designed the cathedral. The only historic structure not razed for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the church was renovated in 1963 by architects Murphy and Mackey of St. Louis who added a new rectory at the rear. The church is now considered an icon.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, also known as the New Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard, is Romanesque in style on the exterior and Byzantine on the interior. The building's distinct green tile dome cuts a magnificent silhouette on the Central West End skyline. The church has the largest mosaic collection in the world. There are 41.5 million pieces of mosaic glass on the interior of the building.

Temple Emanuel in Creve Coeur was designed by St. Louis architect William Bernoudy who also designed many homes in the county. The building is known for its originality and is designed in the shape of a six pointed Jewish Star and is a great example of Mid-Century Modern architecture.

Also in St. Louis County is The Abbey of St. Mary and St. Louis designed by our own world renowned Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum with Italian architect and consultant Pier Luigi Nervi. It was built in 1967 and is extremely unique and modern in form and shape.

COCA, the Center of Creative Arts, was originally the B'Nai Amoona Synagogue designed by Eric Mendolsohn, a world famous architect from Germany who emigrated to the United States. It was dedicated in 1950. The synagogue left traditional synagogue forms behind and dispenses with standard architectural ornament in favor of startling spare, modern lines.

Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal Church in downtown St. Louis, is in English Decorated Gothic-style and was designed in 1859 by Prague-born New York architect Leopold Eidlitz, one of America's most prominent nineteenth century designers. Considered the architect's masterpiece, Christ Church Cathedral is the oldest of thirteen extant churches built by the Episcopal Church in St. Louis between 1859 and 1938.

The United Hebrew Temple on Skinker Boulevard was the first Jewish temple west of the Mississippi and is now a part of the Missouri History Museum. The dramatic auditorium, now successfully preserved as the library reading room of the Missouri Historical Society, exhibits elaborate ornamental plasterwork in the dome executed by architectural sculptor Victor Berlendis. Floral motifs are combined with traditional non-figural Jewish symbols.

Landmarks Association of St. Louis often has tours of historic churches and The St. Louis Chamber Chorus, a magnificent choral organization, performs all over town in a different significant place of worship for each concert.

These religious institutions mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg of beautiful and significant landmark places of worship in our region. It doesn't have to be a holiday for one to have a look at some of these fantastic structures.

About the author: Nancy Kranzberg is a champion of the arts and is a board member of many St. Louis-area arts organizations.