thumbnail of Chicago Matters; Questions of Faith; Chicago's Sacred Treasures
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<v Narrator>Chicago is blessed with an extraordinary diversity of religious art, the visual expressions of devotion, grace our temples, churches, synagogues and mosques, their glory rendered in tile stained glass, gold leaf and brass. The sounds of the faithful ring out in the harmony of choral music, from gospel to Gregorian in the powerful voice of a Jewish cantor and the tones of an Islamic hafez. Some artists use the movements of dance to interpret their scriptures. Others tell their stories through the power of street theater. These art forms are all inspired by different talents and different beliefs. Together, they represent just a few of Chicago's sacred treasures. One of Chicago's most dazzling architectural treasures is virtually hidden behind the walls of a Catholic preparatory school on Chicago's near north side. The stained glass windows of the St. James Chapel at Quigley Seminary were designed in a European tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. At a time when many people were illiterate, windows like these brought the stories of the Bible to Christians who couldn't read. The St. James windows were made by Chicago's Kinsela Glass Company in 1917 and installed in the chapel modeled on St. Chapelle in Paris. For nearly 80 years, the chapel was closed to the public, the windows rarely seen by anyone but the priests and seminary students of Quigley, in this cloistered environment, the windows faded into the commonplace. <v Rev. John Klein>I think we who have grown up with the chapel I was a student here in the 60s. Familiarity makes you amazed that that actually this is something out of the ordinary. As I was going to high school, I just presumed that every other school and seminary had a chapel like this.
<v Narrator>But two years ago, one of the seminary's rare outside visitors, realized that no other place in Chicago had a chapel like this. <v Neal Ball>We have something really probably better than we know, that it measures up to a stain glass I've seen anywhere in the world of any period. <v Narrator>But while admiring the beauty of the windows, businessman Neal Ball was alarmed by something he noticed among the vibrant reds and blues and golds. He saw a patch of white, a piece of glass had fallen out and daylight was pouring in. On closer inspection, the damage turned out to be even greater than Neil Ball had realized. The most precarious was the rose window in danger of collapse. <v Neal Ball>This is something overwhelmingly beautiful, threatened by decay, been call the crown jewel of Chicago's architecture. And we ought not to lose it.
<v Narrator>For help, Ball turnde to a country where art is a national priority. The French government agreed to lend the expertize of its leading authority on stained glass. <v Neal Ball>We are not always very sure here in Chicago that we've got something really valuable until somebody from outside tells us it's really valuable. We sometimes need that validation by other people. <v Narrator>But even with expert advice, it will take millions to repair the windows. To raise the funds Quigley opened its doors to welcome the public for the first time ever. <v Tour guide>Hello, welcome to St. James Chapel at Quigley Seminary. We're here today to enjoy these beautiful windows. <v Narrator>The nonsectarian Friends of the Windows was formed, a volunteer group that shares the beauty and helps raise money by giving tours. <v Tour guide>On the north wall. Up here, you can see pictures of the apostles and martyrs. The rose window here on the south wall is dedicated to the immaculate conception and shows major events in the life of the Virgin Mary. People are absolutely amazed when they walk in the doorway and they catch a glimpse of these windows, they just fall back and they cannot believe how beautiful they are and they wonder, where has this been all my life? <v Rev. John Klein>And I think people are in search of beauty and something that is going to be uplifting to them. And I think that's one of the reasons why we decided to open up the chapel, that the people need that uplifting of the spirit, as it were, which is what this chapel is all about. And whether you're Catholic or Buddhist or whatever, the beauty speaks to your heart.
<v Narrator>When the money is raised to save the windows, the craftsmen here at Botti Studios in Evanston will do the work. Quigley is fortunate that one of the world's leading studios for the creation and restoration of church art is just a few miles away. <v Christopher Botti>We've been in business, in ecclesiastical art business since 1864 in this country. We do stained glass, marble mosaic, bronze painting and decorating. <v Narrator>On any project. The first step is to assess the damage.
<v Window specialist>Well, this one goes out of Quigley North Seminary out of the St. James Chapel. It's here right now for assessment, for potential restoration. One of the things we're looking at is the deterioration of the lead came places where it's pulling away or separating from the channel. Some of the painting on the faces and the hands on the figures are starting to fade. <v Christopher Botti>The Jeanne-Marie Battenberg, he's the French consultant on ?Schertz? Cathedral. He was there a year and a half ago. And in his report, he's talked about that we're going to literally start losing sections of these windows, basically starting now to one point or the other. These are problems that are irrevocable unless corrected immediately. <v Narrator>Chris Botti says this is more than just a job to him. It's a calling passed down through a family of artists dating from the 16th century. <v Christopher Botti>I've been doing this with my parents since I was maybe 13 years old. And with the people at work here in the studio, their fathers and their mothers have all worked here to, you know, you knowing you're part of history, you know, what you're doing is people are going to look at hundreds of years from now, you know, and that's what's rewarding after you've been working 15 or 18 hours a day for a couple of years on a project. <v Narrator>Here at the Hindu temple in suburban Lamonte these Indian sculptors have already been working for two years and have another year and a half to go. Like the Botti's they are carrying on a family trade.
<v Hema Rajagopalan>The artisans that you see in the temple who are working on the sculptures and carvings on the wall are people who have come from India and they are they belong to a certain sect of caste. They've been trained. They're born into that family. So their families who've been traditionally trained, their fathers and forefathers have been trained in this art form. But each individual artist would have his own style or his own flair where he would it would be coming out from within. <v Narrator>Inside and out, the temple is festooned with sculpture, celebrating the many aspects of God. Inside the temple are shrines containing the most important statues of all those of the Hindu deities. These small replicas of the main deities are used in religious processions. The actual statues are so sacred that our cameras are not permitted to photograph them. But the replicas and the splendorous wall carvings that surround the main altars give you some idea of the spiritual artistry here already years in the making and not yet completed. <v Hema Rajagopalan>The carvings on the temple walls are a must in most of the Hindu temples, I would say in all, because art and religion go hand in hand in Hinduism.
<v Narrator>This philosophy, the joining of art and religion, can also be found in Buddhism, the story of this splendid altar hand-carved during the chaos and hardship of World War Two is a testament to the power of religious art. In Buddhist art, the very act of creating the work is just as significant as the finished product itself in the process of making art, the artist strives for what the Buddhists call a state of oneness with the art. <v Dr. Sunnan Kubose>So there's no artist and an artist's work, there's no singer in a song, no dancer in a dance, but there's singing, dancing. Something happening is very dynamic and not two things, subject object. Now, that kind of a life is creative life, and that is the one you think about is the most fundamental satisfying aspect, because when someone asked you what was your most gratifying, your ecstatic most experience, it would be an experience where you were lost in something. By losing yourself, you find yourself. <v Narrator>For Reverend Sunnan Kubose and his family, this altar at the Buddhist temple of Chicago has special meaning because its history is closely connected to their own lives. The altar was carved when Reverend Kubose was less than a year old. It was 1942. Japan had just entered World War Two, and the U.S. government decided that for security reasons, Americans of Japanese descent would be moved to relocation camps away from the West Coast. Within months, 120000 Japanese Americans had been shipped to camps around the country. Among them was Gyomay Kubose, a young Buddhist minister from California. His wife Minnie and their two little boys, Don and five month old Sunnan. The Kuboses were sent to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Even today, they remember the desolate terrain in primitive conditions.
<v Minnie Kubose>Rows and rows of barracks. Yeah, and then in the center was the mess hall they called it where we went to eat and then they had the laundry room and shower. <v Narrator>But one thing the government didn't provide was a temple.
<v Minnie Kubose>There was no temple, barrack was a temple. <v Narrator>As a minister, Reverend Kubose was responsible for conducting Buddhist services there. <v Gyomay Kubose>Sunday we have a special service Sunday service and the memorial services and any time any week and funeral services to. <v Narrator>With their jobs, homes and possessions taken away from them, the camp residents struggle to carry on some semblance of normal life. <v Dr. Sunnan Kubose>And they wanted to try to build their lives, there was a lot of uncertainty, they didn't know how long they were going to be there, what was going to happen to them. So you saw a lot of tremendous amount of creative art going on. <v Narrator>One craftsman in the camp decided the makeshift temple needed a proper altar like the Bottis and the Hindu sculptors. He, too, came from a family of religious artisans. <v Dr. Sunnan Kubose>In Japan, occupations run in families for generations and generations. So he probably grew up doing it. And he did it for, you know, as his family business. <v Narrator>He had the skill and knowledge to make the altar without written plans, what he didn't have was proper building materials. But that didn't stop him.
<v Dr. Sunnan Kubose>So I think he found the materials, just scrap lumber, whatever was available, that's part of the creativity, I think using and adapting what's available. <v Narrator>What wasn't available was gold leaf to give the art of the proper finish. So he turned to the Kuboses for help. <v Dr. Sunnan Kubose>And this gold leaf. I have ordered that. I forgot what the store was. ?inaudible? <v Minnie Kubose>Might be SEARS. <v Gyomay Kubose>Yes, I think-. <v Minnie Kubose>Many people ordered things from SEARS, might be from SEARS. <v Narrator>The Kuboses have long forgotten the name of the alter maker. But shortly after the war, they found that he had remembered them. <v Dr. Sunnan Kubose>My father came to Chicago and founded this temple here, a Buddhist temple, Chicago. And and then after the the war was over and the camps were closed down, then this altar was received by at our temple and on the back of the altar, it was written, you know, when the war is over please deliver this letter to Reverend Kuboseat the Buddhist temple of Chicago. <v Narrator>Today the altar, with a few modifications, still has a place of honor in the Buddhist temple of Chicago. It's the centerpiece of a shrine where temple members come to meditate and pay tribute to relatives who are no longer living.
<v Minnie Kubose>For him to to say to give it to you doesn't that give you make you feel sweet? It makes you feel good? <v Gyomay Kubose>Yeah. I say, well, I feel kind of honored. <v Huseyin Abiba>Are you ready? OK, so repeat after me: [Koran passage]. <v Narrator>Just as in Buddhism or Hinduism, one way Muslims express their faith and pass it on from one generation to the next is through a kind of artistry. These kindergartners at the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove are learning to recite or chant the Muslim holy book called the Koran. <v Huseyin Abiba>The Koran was the last revelation that was sent to mankind from God in Islam, the recitation of the Koran is very important. We believe that that the Koran is the word of God in its totality, and reciting that is a religious obligation on Muslims. And because we believe is the word of God correct, the correct pronunciation, of course, is is imperative to to maintain.
<v Non-dialog>[Call and response with pronunciation adjustments]. <v Narrator>At this level. Just getting the words right is an achievement for these kids. But their teacher says that eventually they will be encouraged to recite as beautifully as possible. <v Huseyin Abiba>That that also is a as an added value. Our prophet actually had had told us to in one of his his sayings, his hadith was to to to to adorn the Koran with our with with your voices. <v Non-dialog>[Koran line sung out].
<v Huseyin Abiba>One of the Koran actually is written like a musical score, so to say, it is written in such a way that someone who is trained in it will be able to know how long to hold letters, when and where to add consonant sounds. <v Narrator>One day, Huseyin's kindergartner's may recite the Koran as perfectly as Imam ?Senat Ajij? Here at the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook. <v Huseyin Abiba>You can find throughout throughout the Muslim world, people who can recite the Koran actually actually can bring people to tears, Muslims and non-Muslims. And a lot of emphasis is placed on the voice in Islam. <v Non-dialog>[Koran line sung out]. <v Narrator>13 year old Azeem Mohammed, a seventh grader at the Muslim Education Center, has earned the revered title of Hafez because he has memorized the Koran in its entirety. <v Salma Ahmed>It's showing a very strong faith of him being a good Muslim.
<v Azeem Mohammed>Yeah, you have to keep on reading it over and over again every day. Like there's three parts of the Koran you have to read, like at least one every day. So you don't forget it. <v Narrator>The hard work and devotion are rewarded when he is chosen to recite the opening prayer at the school ceremony welcoming the holy month of Ramadan. <v Salma Ahmed>Ramadan is very special for all Muslims because this is the time when the Holy Koran was revealed. And we welcome Ramadan here in our school with great celebrations. <v Non-dialog>[Koran line sung out]. <v Salma Ahmed>Azeem recites the Koran in a most beautiful, harmonious rhythmitic tone. It's just beautiful. It's like music to your ears. It's very honorable and we're very proud to have him in our school. <v Narrator>For Padma Siramdasu, religious art coexists with her life as a typical American teenager today is red and white and Padma School, the Morgan Park Academy on Chicago's southwest side. It's an annual event to foster school spirit. The kids and teachers dress casually and wear the school's colors. Sophomore Padma has even put glitter in her hair. But after school, she puts on a different costume for a ritual thousands of years older because Padma is also an accomplished Hindu dancer.
<v Padma Siramdasu>Ever since I was little, I loved it. And my my when I was five years old, my parents would take me to the dance performances and I'd watch and and sometimes I would dance in the aisle because I loved it so much. I thought it was really cool. It's a way for me to express my feelings and my emotions and my thoughts, because you're so free when you dance and you can dance however you want, if you're mad and you can do some big dance. <v Narrator>Hindu dance might be more accurately described as religious dance theater because the dancer is always acting out a story from Hindu scripture, playing characters and expressing emotions. Hindus, in fact, believe that the dance is an art form sent to Earth by the gods thousands of years ago.
<v Krithika Rajagopalan>The gods felt that the lay people on earth were not reading the scriptures or even being moral or acting moral, and were becoming corrupt and lying and being deceitful. And they wanted to bring upon an art form that would educate them and enlighten them at the same time. And in that way, they taught people to be good people and they taught the scriptures through the dance. <v Narrator>In this dance, Padma's character expresses her devotion to God. <v Hema Rajagopalan>She says that you or Lord, who is dancing with your left leg raised up my heart always wants to play to you alone. <v Padma Siramdasu>You can really feel that connection, the spiritual aspect of it. It really brings you closer to God.
<v Narrator>Unlike Padma, many find it difficult to combine their religious and secular lives, especially on working days. But St. Peter's in the loop is dedicated to it. Administered by the Franciscan friars, St. Peters is not a traditional parish with hourly worship services from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., St. Peter's ministers to those who live and work downtown. <v J. Michael Thompson>St. Peter's congregation is the city of Chicago in microcosm. We have bag ladies and bank presidents and everybody in between. <v Narrator>To help bridge the gap between workday and worship, St. Peter's uses music and has devoted the funding for a professional choir. Director of Music Ministry Michael Thompson draws from a roster of 40 experienced singers for his weekday services. They schedule rehearsals and services around their own day job, so they have to learn new music quickly. Thompson also insists they share the choir's mission. <v J. Michael Thompson>The person singing needs to understand that we're not performing, that we are part and parcel of a liturgical service. And so are never the focus.
<v Narrator>Paul McLean is a doctoral student in political science and an instructor at the University of Chicago. <v Paul McLean>Could you could you try to give like a median interpretation of what of what the truth is? <v Narrator>As a member of the choir, he has to be able to put his life on hold in the middle of the day, rush downtown and be prepared to sing with as little as 20 minutes rehearsal. <v J. Michael Thompson>You get to downtown at 11:15. We practice from 11:30 till five to 12. Maybe service starts at five after 12 or 10 after 12, we do our best. Service is over at one o'clock, we go downstairs and put our coats on. We walk back to the car briskly and if I'm lucky, I get back here and I can do three hours of work in the afternoon. <v Michael Thompson>And you do me a favor? You can't speed those notes up. <v Narrator>While there is no fame and not much money, what many choir members get from the experience is the pleasure of working together. There is a lot of friendship and camaraderie here. Choir members come from many different faiths and professions. They have to be prepared to sing from a repertoire of one hundred pieces in several languages. Today, one is an upbeat gospel piece and they're having some fun with it. But after rehearsal, they must quickly switch gears to focus on how they can enhance the service. Success here depends on a kind of anonymous artistry, like the craftsman who built the great medieval churches of Europe. <v Paul McLean>Nobody knows who made these cathedrals in the Middle Ages anymore, but but somehow the idea of music as a building block, as contributing to the edifice of the church is contributing to the vitality of the church is kind of an important aspect of why I do what I do I think.
<v Narrator>Actually the choir has had its moments and the performing spotlight as the Schola Cantorum. It has given concerts all over the country. The group is most famous for its recording of Gregorian chants, which made it to the top ten on Billboard magazine's religious music chart. But they say the most important recognition comes from the congregation of St. Peter's. <v Churchgoer 1>They just lift your spirits up, they're beautiful. <v Churchgoer 2>I always go into St. Peter's whenever I have the chance, you know, during lunch hour or after work. <v Churchgoer 3>It sounded beautiful today. I simply love that music. <v J. Michael Thompson>Many people. When they hear a professional choir talk about artistry. My experience here at St. Peter's is that I will get as many comments about people saying you helped me pray today. And that's our focus. <v Non-dialog>[Jewish cantor singing]
<v Narrator>Inspiring the congregation with music is also the role of the cantor in the Jewish worship service. Tenor Alberto Mizrahi is Cantor at the Ashe Emet synagogue on Chicago's North Side with Rabbi Michael Siegel he leads the congregation in prayer. <v Alberto Mizrahi>My job is to elevate my emotions, my intent, my spirituality to the point that I help elevate that of the congregation. Many of us come from the work day week and we come to the synagogue and we're like, by the time you start praying, it's over. So it's the cantor's job to say, wake up. <v Narrator>Mizrahi, who has an international career as an opera singer and concert artist, is deeply interested in the origins of Jewish music. Inspired by the recent popularity of Gregorian chant recordings, Mizrahi has recorded his own selection of Jewish chants, which he believes are the origin of it all.
<v Alberto Mizrahi>What are the Gregorian modes or scales? They are Western interpretations of the modes we still use in the synagogue in a more Eastern style. So basically we have the same music that has been cross-cultural borrowing. The music you hear is universal. <v Narrator>The idea of creating something beautiful to glorify worship has a special name in Judaism, hiddur mitzvah translated from Hebrew hiddur means to beautify and mitzvah means commandment or obligation. And it applies equally to the stained glass window of a synagogue, an antique menorah or the kiddush cup. <v Rabbi Michael Siegel>I can begin my Friday night meal with a Dixie cup filled with wine. And that would have fulfilled the commandment, but if I were to take a silver cup. Take a very beautiful vessel. That is to elevate the commandment.
<v Narrator>This concept of beautifying the mitzvah has led to the creation of many Jewish ceremonial objects that are so beautiful. They belong in a museum. And in fact, the Spertus Museum of Judaica in Chicago proudly displays some of the finest examples as part of a collection which reflects 5000 years of Jewish history and culture. To encourage this tradition among contemporary artists, the museum has established the Spertus Prize artists of all faiths submit designs for Jewish ceremonial objects like this Hanukkah lamp, winner of the 1994 Spertus Prize. Contemporary art is often inspired by the art and artifacts of the past and some of the most valued pieces, experts are family heirlooms from private collections such as this Torah art curtain from the 1850s, which belonged to a German family named Padgner. In a Jewish tradition. It's made from precious material that already had special meaning to them. <v Susan Youvodin>This notion of beautifying the mitzvah, hiddur mitzvah. Is what inspired Mrs. Padgner to take her wedding dress and to make a Torah art curtain out of it, um, it's also called pious recycling, where you take something that had a secular use and use it for sacred use. It's silk and it's embroidered with gold thread and it has some glass pieces on it to resemble precious stones.
<v Narrator>The art of Jewish needlework is very much alive in this Highland Park dining room where these women are creating the heirlooms of the future. This is a meeting of the Pomegranate Guild, a worldwide society dedicated to the tradition of Jewish needlework. Aviva Silberman is the group's founder and teacher. <v Aviva Silberman>What I share with other women is that this was stitching and learning, stitching that we learned together about Judaism and about our heritage. <v Narrator>The women who sit around this table have different levels of skill and are working on different projects. What they have in common is love of their families and a love of their faith. Lana Grey is preparing for her son's bar mitzvah, making a decorative bag for his tallit or prayer shawl. She escaped from the Holocaust as a baby with her family and says this tradition has special meaning for her. <v Lana Grey>I made another one for my older son, and when I see him use it, it makes me feel wonderful. It's from generation to generation, and particularly my family. I have nothing from my family. So here my my children will have something from me.
<v Ruth Green>I have things that my mother made, I have things that my grandmother made, and they are very precious to me. And the thought of things of my hand joining that really fills me. <v Narrator>At St. Edmunds Episcopal Church, the desire to pass on their art and music to the children inspired this congregation to transform its sanctuary and worship service. Now, the pageantry and traditions of the Church of England are blended with images and music that are distinctly African-American. St. Edmunds is a predominantly Black parish on Chicago's South Side. Since 1998, its members have worshiped in a church bought from a Greek Orthodox congregation. The buildings serve them well, but many felt it didn't reflect their culture or heritage. It was a feeling often expressed by the children. <v Charmain Moore>When my daughter Jessica was about five years old, we were sitting in church and she looked up at the picture up there, and then she looked at me and she she said, Mommy is God white? And that started me to thinking if she thought it, I'm sure that there were a lot of other children that were growing up and they were wondering if that was how it was.
<v Narrator>Other children were wondering and the congregation answered by joining with Reverend Richard Tolliver and remaking St. Edmunds in their own image. <v Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver>It's important for my parishioners to know and understand that they don't have to leave anything at the door when they come in this place. They can bring their complete selves who they are and lift that up and offer it to God. And it should be reflected in the art and in the liturgy of this church. <v Narrator>The congregation wanted art that portrayed African figures from the Bible. First, they spent more than a year doing historical research. <v Fernetta Jarrett>We didn't know. So we had to find out somehow if somebody had said some Black images from the Bible, I would have been, you know, what Black images. But that that's the great thing about it was a learning process, a decision process for all of us. And now we're just so proud of it that you can't imagine it being any other way and it gets more beautiful.
<v Narrator>Now, when they look above the altar, they see a mural of three panels which illustrate figures of African descent, such as Simon of Sorini, who helped Christ carry the cross in Jerusalem. The altar cloths and other vestments are made with fabric patterned on the traditional kente cloth of Ghana. A crucifix shows a Christ figure with African facial features. And when the children gaze up at the angels, the angels look like them. <v Charmain Moore>It's a kind of silent way of building self-esteem within them in the knowledge and the understanding that when it's said that they are God's own, now, they can really actually see it and internalize the fact that they really are God's own. <v Narrator>Saint Edmunds has even brought the African-American experience into the liturgy of the service. One chant usually sung to traditional music now echoes a song made famous by the civil rights movement. In choosing the music, choir director Kenneth Lenon says he has a wealth of tradition to draw on.
<v Kenneth Lenon>Our minister wants to make relevant our worship each and every week. So it's very easy to select music that reflects our heritage, keeping the African-American composers alive just as we keep Handel and Bach alive. <v Narrator>And they plan to keep the past of this building alive, some of the Greek Orthodox images will be left in place. <v Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver>We are multicultural. So for me, it's important to have the Eurocentric murals as well as the Afrocentric. <v Narrator>In singing this beloved African-American hymn, the congregation seems to have taken to heart its final words true to our God, true to our native land.
<v Non-dialog>[Prayers sung out]. <v Narrator>Like St. Edmunds, the walls of the downtown Islamic center are adorned with images that reflect cultural identity and inspired deep religious feelings. But here, as in all mosques, the concern is to avoid any human or animal images, especially in statues, in accordance with Islamic religious beliefs. This poses a challenge for Muslim artists. <v Omer Mozaffar>Statues are not really looked upon very well in Islam just because that is like the first step to idol worship. As a Muslim, you are praying to directly to and only to God. So you have these people who have this artistic tendency and they're trying not to draw pictures or to do statues, so they came up with this other art form just taking the Koranic verses and drawing them and writing them and just as beautiful way as you possibly can. <v Narrator>These artists look to the words of the Prophet Muhammad for guidance.
<v Jamil Khursid>He said, if you do anything, regardless, we do it, do it the perfect and the neat and the nice you can. <v Non-dialog>[Prayers sung out]. <v Jamil Khursid>So we try do in our way, we're doing things to follow our religion. <v Narrator>At Christ Church in Lake Forest, the beauty is in the simplicity with its soaring white spaces and unembellished altar, it has the grace of a shaker meetinghouse. But for some in the congregation, the bare walls presented an opportunity to bring something visual to the worship without destroying the simplicity of the building and in a belief shared with Islam, this Protestant congregation wanted to avoid human images in its art. <v Susan Bergman>I'm just supervising.
<v Narrator>A committee was formed headed by Susan Bergman, a writer and member of Christ Church. They wanted to draw on the traditions of many religions, and one of their first projects was inspired by the book Chicago Churches and Synagogues. <v Susan Bergman>We got a wonderful book which Father Lane edited with a with a photographer who took pictures of the buildings, synagogues and churches and meeting places in Chicago. So we adapted some of those photographs for soft sculpture. The panel on the left is a column capital and a pair of glass windows from St. Alphonsus Church. The center panel is taken from a photograph of the Dome of the Holy Innocents Church. And then on the right, the panel called The Tree of Life, is taken from the ceiling of the North Shore congregation Israel. <v Narrator>The Arts Committee decided the banner would have more spiritual meaning if it were made entirely of recycled fabrics contributed by the congregation. <v Susan Bergman>We have an old piece of chenille bedspread and we have some mattress padding and we have some some old orange ribbon, which you wouldn't think would work with a white and gold color scheme. But it just provided the brightness that we needed.
<v Laura Groff>And everyone seems to feel a part of it. And if they are not actively involved in making the piece of art or working on it, they can contribute to it. And that makes them feel part of it also. <v Narrator>After the success of the banner, the arts committee turned to Linda Ruth Dickinson, an award winning artist and member of the congregation. Linda was born and raised in China to missionary parents. She uses both Eastern and Western imagery in her work. She just begun to explore religious themes when the arts committee came to her. For Advent she created a piece called Sanctum. If you look closely, you'll discover Linda's abstract interpretation of a powerful Christmas image. <v Linda Ruth Dickinson>Perhaps you can see a small form that looks almost like a baby, maybe not quite completely formed. And if you look closely in the background, you could see a human female figure. I wanted to reference Mary, specifically Mary's submission to the Angel's announcement that she would be carrying God's son the small form, if you take it as a baby, coming through cloud layers to the earth and the female figure has landing lights in yellow dots that make the outline of her figure on the on the earth. <v Narrator>Appreciating Linda's style may be a new experience for some, but she says she's getting enthusiastic support from the pastor and congregation.
<v Steve Wells>I mean, you can look at it on its face value and go, that's beautiful. I had no idea what it is, but it's beautiful. You know, we really I think we embrace it that way. And we challenge, I think, people that come to our congregation. <v Walter Liefeld>As I understand it all creation is here to worship God. And we don't use arts as a prop to worship, but rather we worship with our arts. We bring these to God. <v Narrator>Linda considers Stations of the Cross to be her most significant work so far. It is a 14 piece series commissioned by Christ Church to depict the final events in the life of Jesus. <v Linda Ruth Dickinson>I was very touched when the stations were installed Holy Week of 1995 that people were moved to tears as they went around and looked and considered what the stations meant. <v Narrator>In the Hispanic neighborhoods of Chicago, the final journey of Christ is played out as live outdoor theater with the entire community as a stage. On Good Friday morning, thousands in Pilsen and neighboring Little Village lined the streets to watch their neighbors recreate the suffering crucifixion. And finally, the burial of Jesus. The Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross pageant, is the cooperative effort of eight Catholic churches in the community. Each agrees to contribute cast members, costumes and volunteers to work behind the scenes.
<v Raul Segura>[Blessing of bread in Spanish]. <v Narrator>Preparations for the 1996 pageant began early in Lent with rehearsals in the basement of the Providence of God church. Director Jorge Nieto says he tries to get the actors to combine the spiritual and the artistic. <v Jorge Nieto>[Speaking in Spanish, live translation transribed as follows:] There is a similarity with theater because we must get inside the role we are playing because if we don't get inside the role, we can't reach the people. We can bring the gospel to them. <v Narrator>On this rehearsal night, Director Nieto put the actors through the Last Supper scene four times before he was satisfied.
<v Raul Segura>[Blessing of bread in Spanish]. <v Narrator>Each year, a lottery is held to determine which church will cast the crucial role of Jesus Christ. Pageant rules require that this actor be a single young man of good character from the Pilsen community. This year, Raoul Segura, who has played other roles in the past, was chosen for the coveted part. <v Raul Segura>For me, it is a real honor. I feel real good. I pray every night, ask God to give me the knowledge and the ability of speech and memory wise to help me through this and also to get me the help with my diet. Well, because most people say Jesus has been a skinny man, obviously I'm not, and I had to lose some weight. <v Narrator>The actor who plays Jesus certainly has to be in shape. He must carry a 150 pound cross for nearly two miles to Harrison Park, where the dramatic crucifixion scene takes place. Early spring in Chicago doesn't always provide the ideal weather conditions for outdoor theater. And unlike the audience, the actors can't throw on warm clothes, but they seem totally wrapped up in the spirituality of the event. <v Jorge Nieto>[Speaking Spanish, live translation transcribed as follows:] When the time comes for the presentation on Holy Friday, you'll forget about yourself and you're inside the role living that experience.
<v Raul Segura>Padre, en tus manos encomiendo mi espíritu. <v Via Cruces narrator>Y al decier estas palabras, expiró. <v Narrator>the Via Crucis has been described as the most important day of the year in Pilsen. Raul Segura says recreating the crucifixion brings out powerful emotions in the actors and the audience. <v Raul Segura>Last year during the procession was one lady as Jesus walked by her, she started crying. I guess she thought the pain that Jesus went through at that time, just started crying. <v Narrator>Although patterns like this are common in Mexico, the Pilsen Via Crucis is one of only a few in the United States, and organizers say preserving this art form is very important to them. <v Cecilia Paz>I'm first generation Mexican-American. I've never seen this. I've never felt it until here and now, which I'm happy that some of this tradition, some of this culture is not lost anymore. We are continuing this faith and tradition here.
<v Narrator>Immigrants have always brought their traditions, including their religious art, to Chicago, sacred images from around the world can be found in unexpected places throughout the city. And often the art and architecture of one group is left behind when they move out of a neighborhood and another group moves in, the most obvious examples are the city's many century old churches. <v Rolf Achilles>Gothic revival, interior, wonderful stained glass windows do-. <v Narrator>Rolf Achilles calls them living museums, and he has made a career out of educating the public about them in hopes of preserving them and the art treasures they contain. <v Rolf Achilles>It's an educational process getting people aware that they don't have to go two thousand, four thousand miles to see something significant. It's right down the street.
<v Narrator>So we caught up with Rolf on a tour that began at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, sandwiched between Cabrini Green and the Ravenswood L tracks on the city's near north side. Here we get a glimpse of the art and architecture of the German immigrants who built this church 100 years ago. <v Rolf Achilles>They may have lived seven or 12 people in a one room little place, but on Sundays they could come, or on feast days, they could come into a church that is theirs. It's glorious, it's big. You transcend ordinary life. <v Narrator>And the style of this glorious art in architecture had to reflect their national traditions. That explains why the congregation chose the Zetler Co. of Munich to design their stained glass windows. What about Tiffany you say? Out of the question. <v Rolf Achilles>Tiffany couldn't sell churches to the Germans or the Italians, especially not to the Irish for anything. And you just it didn't work because of the national differences at home. Not here. But the Irish don't like the English in the 19th century. <v Narrator>But Chicago is blessed with a considerable number of Tiffany windows, and we find an excellent collection at the next stop on our tour, Second Presbyterian on South Michigan Avenue. Unlike St. Joseph's, this church served a neighborhood of wealthy, elite Chicagoans of English ancestry, the movers and shakers of the late eighteen hundreds. At its high point, the congregation numbered twelve hundred. But within 20 years, the movers and shakers had moved on, leaving the maintenance of their treasures to future congregations. Today, there are only 159 members here.
<v Ruth Sharpe>So you can imagine with a congregation that is that small and where so many of the members are on fixed incomes and there are children that are just financially, it is a struggle each year to make a budget, but we are committed to doing it. So we do. <v Narrator>For our final stop on the tour, Rolf takes us to a near west side neighborhood where the city's upper class built a very expensive monument to their faith and then moved away. Today, the Church of the Epiphany stands in an industrial zone, but its crumbling treasury of arts and crafts style art and architecture still inspires all.
<v Rolf Achilles>The arts and crafts style is the use of natural woods, the use of organic materials on the walls, organic ceilings, the the wood on the soil, all natural colors, natural tiles. The pews here are of the finest wood. It's cherrywood, quite rare. This is what the congregation wanted. They wanted the state of the arts. Now, that was one hundred and ten years ago. What happens with neglect over this period of time? And it's nobody's fault. It's just it's a natural phenomenon. What happens is that the water starts leaking in this beautiful patterning, in this Celtic revival style is popping off. Well, all this needs to be preserved. You've got to stop this process. And it's expensive. The money that the church does have, go for the school, go for the social outreach programs and the like that the neighborhood does need. This is only its building and this is its shell and the body of what it does, its spirit is really out in the community. <v Narrator>The Church of the Epiphany is currently trying to raise three million dollars to fully restore the building. Why spend precious resources to save churches like these? Just ask the parishioners at Second Presbyterian.
<v Paul Waggoner>It's the treasury of art that I can come in on Sunday morning and look around and just feel God's blessing because of this beauty here. <v Ruth Sharpe>I think for me the ascension window is particularly when I act as a lay leader, it's very inspirational to sit on the pulpit and look up at that window and and feel something inside oneself that there's quite special. <v Narrator>In this community of great architecture, many of our greatest architects built churches, this is Unity Temple in Oak Park designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1906. It is a world famous architectural masterpiece. Its sanctuary is open, yet intimate and manages to convey a spiritual feeling without the use of religious symbols. But the years have taken their toll on this building, and it's currently in the midst of a one point two million dollar restoration effort. Frank Lloyd Wright's one time employer, the legendary Louis Sullivan, designed this house of worship on Chicago's South Side in 1890. Since 1921, it's been the Pilgrim Baptist Church, but it was originally designed as the KAM Synagogue by Sullivan and his partner, Dagmar Adler. <v Rev. Dr. Floyd Davis>They had the concept of doing Noah's Ark. You have the arched ceiling? You have the wood work and you have the paneling. And there was no other building like this. And to preach in this church where the acoustics are perfect is just a blessing. So when you talk about an African-American congregation, we also must bring in the Judeo-Christian tradition, because I'm a Baptist preacher who preaches in the synagogues around about a star of David, so it's very unusual.
<v Narrator>But Pilgrim has another claim to fame. It's also the cradle of gospel music. In 1932, its gospel choir was founded by the man many consider the father of gospel music, Thomas A. Dorsey. He was the son of a Baptist minister, but he didn't start out writing church music. <v Song>[Unidentified Dorsey song plays] <v Narrator>In the 20s, Dorsey came to Chicago from Atlanta and established a career as a blues musician going by the name of Georgia Tom. But after a long illness, Dorsey had a religious rebirth and vowed to return to his Baptist roots.
<v Song>[Performance of "I Gave My Heart to Jesus"] <v Narrator>He began to compose and try to sell a new kind of music he called gospel. Sacred words set to a blues beat. But he couldn't get much interest from the church community until he approached Reverend J.C. Austin at the Pilgrim Baptist Church. <v Rev. Dr. Floyd Davis>Well, in the churches, you had your anthems and you had your standard hymns. And what Dorsey did because of his background was kind of gave a little swing to the music. And people felt that his music was boogie woogie music and they felt it had no place in the church. But Dr. Austin felt like it could work here at Pilgrim. So he invited him to come to this church in 1932 and begin what is known as the Pilgrim Gospel Chorus. <v Narrator>It is a heritage that Pilgrim takes very seriously.
<v Rev. Dr. Floyd Davis>We have really preserved his music. That was not a worship service that we have, that there was not a day or a couple of Dorsey songs. It's just a part of us. It's a part of our history. <v Narrator>The Pilgrim Baptist Choir is not alone in carrying Dorsey's legacy. His niece, Lena McLin, has devoted her life to it as a voice coach and music teacher. McLean includes her uncle's music in the repertoire of her choral group. <v Song>[Performance of "Take My Hand Precious Lord"] <v Narrator>As a child, McLin lived for a time with the Dorsey family, she remembers growing up surrounded by music. <v Lena McLin>He used to write so much music. It was music everywhere, music in the bedroom, music in the living room, music in the dining room, music everywhere. If he got an idea in his mind, everything had to stop until he got it down and it didn't take him that long to put it down. You could tell that he had been in show business because he knew how to score real fast. <v Narrator>McLin says that Dorcy, seen here with Housesit or Dower on Chicago's Jubilee's showcase, remained interested and active in music until his death in 1993. She has her theories about why Dorsey's music moves us as much today as when it was written.
<v Lena McLin>He talked about everyday problems. Did you ever say to yourself that I love Jesus? Did you ever say to yourself that he loves me? You understand me? Now that's a personal thing. But the rhythm is [snaps and sings a beat], you just can't sit still. You know, you're trying to be dignified, but your big toe would start moving. You know, you have to do something. And so it packed the churches. <v Narrator>The Lena McLin singers and the other artists we have met, are but a few of many who have been inspired to turn their talents to religious art, some of them lovingly maintained works of genius from the past. Others are finding new expressions of faith. Whatever the path, their labors are a gift to us all with their voices, their hands and their hearts, they create and preserve Chicago's sacred treasures.
Chicago Matters
Questions of Faith
Chicago's Sacred Treasures
Producing Organization
WTTW (Television station : Chicago, Ill.)
Window to the World Communications, Inc.
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Episode Description
The gospel songs of the Pilgrim Baptist choir, the intricately cared Buddhist altar made from scrap lumber and the ornamental calligraphy adorning the walls of the Islamic Cultural Center are all creative manifestations of faith; they are among the religious art, architecture, and music examined by producers Geoffrey Baer and Royal Kennedy--supplemental material.
Series Description
"Each year WTTW devotes its Chicago Matters Series to a subject of concern to the community. This year, the series presented an in-depth look at religion. Joined by WBEZ Radio and The Chicago Public Library, the series addressed QUESTIONS OF FAITH through documentaries, weekly radio programs and public discussions. "No matter what religion we are ascribed, there are certain life events that often compel us to turn to religion in search of meaning, comfort and community. THE HEART OF RELIGION examines the role religion plays in our personal and spiritual life through three 'rites of passage,' birth, marriage and death. "CHICAGO'S SACRED TREASURES takes viewers on a visual tour through the city and suburbs to illustrate how religious communities express their faith through the arts. Through music, dance, sculpture, calligraphy, painting, stained glass and even needlework the program conveys the idea that in all religions there are those who are inspired to express their devotion through some sore of creative expression. "A special edition of CHICAGO TONIGHT, WTTW's nightly public affairs series, introduces viewers to Chicago's fastest-growing and second-largest religion--Islam. Host John Callaway moderates this discussion about beliefs, practices, and stereotypes with four area Muslims, including a leader of the offshoot Nation of Islam. "The CHICAGO MATTERS MINUTES served as public service announcements as well as promotion for the series. As a community service to our viewers, the CHICAGO MATTERS SERIES utilized various mediums to promote religious understanding and tolerance among the different faiths through dialogue. "RECOMMENDED VIEWING: THE HEART OF RELIGION and CHICAGO's SACRED TREASURES"--1996 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Producing Organization: WTTW (Television station : Chicago, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Window to the World Communications, Inc.
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The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
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Chicago: “Chicago Matters; Questions of Faith; Chicago's Sacred Treasures,” 1996-04-29, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
MLA: “Chicago Matters; Questions of Faith; Chicago's Sacred Treasures.” 1996-04-29. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 10, 2023. <>.
APA: Chicago Matters; Questions of Faith; Chicago's Sacred Treasures. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from