Chicago’s St. Benedict the African and the Four Strong Black Women in glorious stained glass

 

door

We stepped inside St Benedict the African—thoroughly drenched from an apocalyptical rain—through a wooden door with an adorable stained glass portal and whoooooooaaaaaa holy mother of all immersion pools!

pool

Nope—I totally did not expect to find a full body immersion pool inside a Catholic church.  This was just one of many delightful surprises St. Benedict had in store for us.  (The church is probably quite exciting  from the outside too, but I couldn’t tell you what it looks like because the unrelenting rain on Chicago’s South side that day wouldn’t allow us to look up, let alone take photos.)

interior

The church’s circular sanctuary is dramatically lit with a  mixture of natural and artificial light. The floor is designed with direct access to soil, so that tall plants that are growing right from the ground—not from planters—giving the church a bit of a tropical smell.

vestimenys

St. Benedict the African was built in 1989 by the Belli & Belli architecture firm specially for the African American community of Englewood.

All of the church’s décor is thoughtfully chosen and well crafted, with an Afrocentric flair.  The lovely wooden tabernacle pictured above compliments the bold tapestry behind it.

candleholders

Even the carved candlesticks are meticulously designed.

DSCN2447

The lobby outside the sanctuary is also packed with art.

pieta

We met up with a nun in the lobby who explained that the church commissioned this pieta from a Tanzanian artist.  It is carved from ironwood—the dark color is natural and unstained.

painting

HOB was digging this painting by Hector Ofori.

hat

How surprising and fun to find a beaded crown—called Oba’s crown—made by the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria!

benedict

Chicago artist David Lee Csicsko created St. Benedict’s stained glass windows.  According to the nice nun, Csicsko was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia.  Here is the church’s namesake wearing a 16th century robe with two of Chicago’s most famous skyscrapers in the background.

The heart theme is consistent in every window.  (I heart it, don’t you?)

Now here’s the best part: the Four Strong Black Women:

respect

On the left Harriet Tubman and on the right Sojourner Truth.

dipper

Harriet Tubman has a Big Dipper on her dress which symbolizes the North Star path to freedom for slaves escaping through the underground railroad.

respect2

On the left Sister Thea Bowman and Rosa Parks on the right.

I am grateful for St. Benedict the African for introducing me to Sister Bowman—in fact the reason it took me so long to write this post is that I was enjoying reading about her online and admiring her intelligence and charisma in the many videos of her speaking on YouTube.

This quote from Sister Bowman makes a great introduction to her legacy as well as fitting description of the wonderful church of St. Benedict the African:

“What does it mean to be black and Catholic?  It means that I bring myself, my black self. All that I am. All that I have. All that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gift to the church.”

heart

How we got to Englewood: train.
Where we slept: at home. Price: mortgage, assessments and utilities. Recommended: highly.

18 comments

  1. Nemorino · · Reply

    What a beautiful and unusual church!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! There are a lot of interesting churches in Chicago with a complicated history; they’ve converted from a synagogue to Baptist or from Polish American to Mexican American, etc. I love those churches too but it’s fun to visit one that has a unified intent and history.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a super visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Despite the rain, we had a fascinating time in Englewood. We live on the far North side and Englewood is all the way South, so it feels like we’re getting jet lag getting there, though the train ride is easy enough. There are a lot of mansions about getting fixed up after a time of neglect and artists setting up cool projects.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Far enough to be a voyage of exploration!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what an exuberant and positive space. Thanks so much for introducing us to its marvels and treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exuberant and positive is the perfect description! We met several parishioners too who were all welcoming and lovely. Apparently they don’t a relic of Saint Benedict yet but some members will soon be off to Palermo in search of one.

      Like

  4. Love the stained glass windows, and all the art work. Would love to see a service, the sound would amazing with the shape of the building 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s a drum kit in there—I guess the service can really get rocking!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A little different from my churches, but really interesting to see others 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing. And that pool! Wild. Do people convert to Catholicism enough to warrant that? Not my childhood parish, that’s for sure – full of gruesome scenes and shadows. Yes – would be interested in the music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m curious about how the baptisms work too. The nun told us that the pool is a kind of symbolic heart of the church in that you have to walk by it to enter to worship. I bet a few kids have tried to take a dip in there for fun when their parents weren’t looking!

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  6. This is such a cool church! I didn’t know there was an African St. Benedict. And he was from my favorite order, the Franciscans! They always wear a simple rope belt with three knots, for poverty, chastity and obedience, I think. I wonder if that is part of the design on the stained glass robe. I know just enough about Catholicism to behave myself when I attend a service, but I wonder if there is an African tradition of baptism by immersion. Anyway, water always has powerful meaning in scriptures. I want to visit this church!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. St. Benedict is new to me too—he’s from Sicily.

      I am also not a Catholic though I’ve been to a lot of masses (mostly in languages I can’t understand). I stand up when everyone else stands up but I learned my lesson about kneeling from trying it in Poland where the kneeling part goes on forever and ever……

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  7. Looks like a vibrant art studio. I heart it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly–and we didn’t even photograph half of the art in there!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the stained glass iconography and historic figures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too—it is traditional and all new at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

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