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Sacred Spaces Walking Tour Showcases the Loop’s Hidden Religious Gems

Chicago Loop Synagogue. Photo by Allison Sheedy.

On the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s new walking tour, Sacred Spaces, any curious individuals can walk the city with a docent to explore a building that once may have served only a small demographic, or a church that had to be rolled over to a new location. Most importantly, they will learn about buildings or sites as sacred spaces that they may have never known existed, or saw only  in passing on their way to work or class and thought nothing of.

Diana Eck, professor at Harvard Divinity School, once said that Chicago is the most religiously diverse city our country has to offer. This can be seen on the Sacred Spaces walking tour, starting on the DePaul University downtown campus. A tall statue of St. Vincent DePaul stands in the middle of campus, displaying the motto of the school, which is the largest Catholic university in the country: “I will show you the way of wisdom.” From there the tour leads into the DePaul chapel which was built in the late 1950s. Although not all sites on the tour follow suit, this chapel is open to members of all religious traditions.

Not all notable spots on the tour are actual edifices. Chicago’s first Jewish synagogue, established in the 1840s, is commemorated by a plaque where it once stood at what is now The Federal Center. The Chicago Loop Synagogue, established in 1958, is now the only synagogue in the Loop. Once serving only Jewish working men, the synagogue is now open to both men and women, and hosts seminars and panel discussions every week. From the very beginning of this site’s tour, people can observe the sculpture above the door that offers a blessing of open hands over anyone who walks by. In the first floor chapel, the walls hold lithographs bearing the theme, “Let there be light.”

Crucifix outside St. Peter's Church. Photo by Allison Sheedy

The next stop on the tour displays a large crucifix above its front door with Jesus looking over the Loop—St. Peter’s Catholic Church. It was built in the 1840s to serve German immigrants. Inside, vibrant colors and flowers are displayed since Easter has just passed.

The “I Am” temple dates back to the 1930s, and although it is not open to those not instructed in the faith, it has a reading room. Once used for the Elks Club, the temple is now used completely by those of the “I Am” faith.

The last stop on the walking tour claims to have members from every zip code in the city, and is also the tallest church in the world—the Chicago Temple Building. At 568 feet tall, it beats the Ulm Minster in Germany by 38 feet for the Guinness Book of World Record’s title of “world’s tallest church.” In 1833 this Methodist church, then just a log cabin, was rolled over on logs to the corner of Washington/Clark and has been there since.

Whether you’re aware of these sites Chicago’s loop has to offer or not, this new walking tour offers insight into the history and current uses of the Loop’s many sacred spaces.

Find out more about the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s tours at


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