Library Learnings: Church: more than meets the eye, part 8

“The aesthetic draw of churches”

Now coming to a close, this Library Learnings multi-part essay introduced, and then moved on from The Great Courses DVD set, The World’s Greatest Churches—available in the SSUC Library—which opens to view dozens of round-the-world church buildings of note. As the course guidebook has it, these buildings are “masterpieces of architecture, painting, and sculpture”.

If such landmark churches interest you, you might enjoy as well going online and calling up In June, 2021, the upscale Conde Nast Traveler magazine uncloaked “The Most Beautiful Churches in the World, from Ethiopia to Brazil”. There are 17 of them, including…spoiler alert!…Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica. ‘[T]here’s no denying the aesthetic draw of churches,” it was avowed, “proving that a little faith (and a lot of artistic genius) goes a long way.”

Now, Library Learnings is not about to claim that the snapshots that follow—they constitute a photo essay, and go to make up the final instalment in “Church: more than meets the eye”—depict great churches [only one edifice, Washington, D.C.’s, National Cathedral, is among those featured in The World’s Greatest Churches]; and, surely, Conde Nast Traveler would give each a pass. But they did catch the eye of one photographer, at least. And they’re nearer at hand than those in Ethiopia and Brazil. So, journey along now, and see 40 images of 26 more-middling church buildings…that are still an eyeful.

Ken Fredrick


President Teddy Roosevelt laid the foundation stone for America’s National Cathedral in 1907; the building was a long time coming—it opened in 1990. The second largest church building in the United States, this Episcopal kirk is Neo-Gothic in its design. Interior highlights include the high altar, made from stones quarried near Jerusalem; intricate woodcarvings—the long stalls of the Great Choir are of oak; and glorious stained-glass windows.  



Also in the District, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America. Off in a quiet corner of its basement-level Crypt Church is the Holy Family Oratory, with this marble bas-relief and prayerful inscription.


Completed in 1800, Home Moravian Church is in Old Salem, the historic district in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A major renovation in 1912-13 included the installation of half-a-dozen stained-glass windows which portray the life of Jesus. The far end of a sweeping balcony faces The Good Shepherd.


Visit the website of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and this word fills the screen: “Splendor”—you can see why. The Gothic Revival-style church [1892] is the key structure in St. Peter’s Square, a national historic district. Remarkably, the church cost $75,000 to construct.


Little Flower Parish in Browning, Montana, just east of Glacier National Park, serves the Blackfeet Nation: “We are a spirit-filled community,” the church declares, “embracing both Native and Catholic traditions.” Established in 1931, the structure was built by local community members with rocks hauled to the site by horse and wagon.


Woodworker hobbiest Ned Dyer, who died in 2011, crafted large and elaborate churches, each of them a clock; he bequeathed a dozen or so of them to the Boundary County Museum in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Each small, intricate piece of wood was cut individually, using a scroll saw, a specialty tool—it’s a stationary machine equipped with a fine blade that moves rapidly up and down.


Historic St. Mary’s Mission was established in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in 1841: it’s the place, it likes to insist, “where Montana began”. Restored in 1879, “at the peak of its beauty,” the church houses in its basement an art gallery and museum, which contains a becoming collection of Catholic vestments and relics.



Languishing at the base of the Tobacco Root Mountains, tiny Pony, Montana [population 141], boasts 95 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Settled in the 1860s, the hamlet was a prosperous gold-mining town with at least 5,000 residents. This is Pony Community Church.


From 1865 to 1875, during the height of the Montana gold rush, Virginia City served as the territorial capital. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was a prominent showplace, and still is. Its plentiful stained-glass windows are striking, but its pipe organ, installed in 1904, is storied: crafted in Vermont by the Estey Organ Company, it was shipped around Cape Horn, and came to Virginia City from San Francisco by rail, then wagon. It’s “an original installation,” the church boasts, “and happily remains tonally and mechanically unmolested.”


State highway 69 runs for 52 kilometres through Montana’s Boulder Valley with nary a building to be seen…except for St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church: it sits in the middle of nothing. The church, complete with a historic cemetery at the back, is a frame Gothic-styled edifice, hand-built in 1880-81 by pioneers from Ireland.


Charming Port Gamble, Washington, is the longest-running privately-owned mill town in America [1853-1998, when the timber mill closed]. The company built St. Paul’s Church in 1879 to look like a New England Congregational church—tall, narrow, steep-roofed. “As the church,” the congregation avows, “we live transformed lives as witness to the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.”


Established in Poulsbo, Washington, in 1886, Fordefjord Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, now First Lutheran Church, was very much an ethnic church: the use of the Norwegian language gave way to English only gradually between 1921 and the 1940s. Renovated in 1959, the sanctuary still holds stained-glass windows from the ‘30s, and an above-the-altar painting—Jesus in Gethsemane—done in 1912.


First Lutheran had a high leadership turnover in its early years: its first two pastors each left to form new congregations. One was the Free Lutheran Church [1905] on Poulsbo’s Front Street, which became Grace Lutheran. In 1981, the building was converted into a condominium, Gran Kirk, which was renovated in 2014. It is said to have “retained its character”: realtors tempt prospective owners to “write your novella in the church steeple room, with is 360-degree view of Liberty Bay.”



Non-denominational Victorian Valley Chapel “lends itself to quiet contemplation for all,” Allen and Sara Smith declare—their family, which came from Los Angeles, owns the entire back-of-beyond valley on Washington’s Orcas Island. Built in the 1960s, “Much of the chapel is old,” they explain. “The stained-glass windows and pews were salvaged from an old church in Anacortes. The ceiling beams were fashioned after Swedish beams, and built by a craftsman on the island.” It’s used nowadays “for weddings and heartfelt events.” The statue of St. Francis stands outside in a sylvan setting.


For its centennial celebration in 2003, Washington’s Lopez Island Community Church raised its original building to redo the foundation and expand the sanctuary. The stained-glass windows, even when viewed from the outside, attest to a job well done. This non-denominational church desires “to follow Jesus,” it affirms, “serve him, and share his love with others.”


Saint Francis Catholic Parish is unique in the Archdiocese of Seattle, encompassing as it does all of the islands in the San Juan Archipelago. There’s a Saint Francis Catholic Church [1894], housed in a comely building on Davis Bay Road on Lopez Island. There’s another [1859] in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island: at that one, a noonday sun shines through south-facing windows, causing those on the north side to glow.

Whidbey Institute’s status as a religious organization supports its exploration, as a retreat centre, of matters relating to earth, spirit, and the human future. The learning centre, on a late-19th-century Finnish farm on Washington’s Whidbey Island, built its humble, handcrafted Sanctuary as a “forest hideaway”. “[I]n my mind’s eye,” builder Kim Hoelting explains, “it would be something like a Native American longhouse.” “The walk in the woods—the getting there—is important: you see something, you’re drawn in,” according to architect Ross Chapin. A labyrinth, “in [a] stunning live-edge wood,” is nearby.


Professional photographer Will Pursell, writing about a wedding he’d photographed in Minter Gardens’ chapel, said: “Minter is one of the most amazing venues [to which] I have ever been…. It feels like you fell into Alice in Wonderland or some other fairy tale.” It was Marie Skerl, another photographer, who broke the bad news: “Sadly, Minter Gardens actually shut down in October, 2013, after 33 years of being in business. Brian Minter created such a stunning garden….” With its fetching wedding chapel, it was just off the Trans-Canada Highway east of Chilliwack, B.C.


St. Stephen’s Heritage Anglican Church, just off Mt. Newton Cross Road on the Saanich Peninsula, reckons that it is “the oldest church in British Columbia used continuously as a place of worship since its construction.” Built of California redwood in 1862, it hopes to “continue to be a place of Good News and hope for future generations.” The nativity scene-in-stained-glass is affixed above the altar.


Guitarist Cheryl Grice, after playing a concert at St. Mary Magdalene on B.C.’s Mayne Island, described it as “a lovely little church by the waterfront.” On Georgina Point Road, it’s said to be the only church on the island, and so it is “an inclusive, open Christian community”; it was founded in 1897 in the Anglican tradition, based in the Iona Celtic style. On the grounds, out back of the wooden building, and amidst the embracing greenery, a visitor might chance upon this tiny, cheery figurine.


On the main road out of Fulford Harbour heading towards Ganges, St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church is Salt Spring Island’s oldest church, built between 1880 and ’85. The windows, front door, and bell were acquired from the so-called Butter Church in Cowichan Bay, and were brought, by First Nations people in three canoes lashed together, to Salt Spring’s Burgoyne Bay, and then by ox-drawn stoneboat to the site. Coloured stonework was added in 1973. The cross in the foreground is part of the church cemetery.


A national historic site, St. Ann’s Academy in Victoria is said to be “a testament to the dedication of the Sisters of St. Ann who were integral to the beginnings of education and healthcare in B.C.” The 1858 chapel—Victoria’s first Roman Catholic cathedral—was moved on skids from its original site nearby, and added to the school in 1886. It has an ornate altar and ceiling carvings, gold-leaf detailing, original oil paintings, stained-glass windows, and a 1913 Casavant pipe organ. It is often referred to as “the heart of St. Ann’s”. 

One of the earliest mission churches in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, St. Marguerite—later known as St. Margaret’s—was established in 1912…and virtually abandoned in 1952. Located within sight of Hastings Lake, on a very peaceful tract, it’s an important Metis heritage site: in 2000, the Archdiocese transferred St. Margaret’s to the Metis Nation of Alberta. Though not open to the public, one can peek inside.




In 1952, Fridhem, a Swedish Evangelical Lutheran congregation, organized 50 years earlier, and located near today’s Camrose Hutterite Colony north on secondary highway 833, organized a mission congregation in Camrose—Bethel. When, in the mid-1980s, it outgrew its building [first built by the Camrose Roman Catholic Parish in 1909, it was sold to the Ukrainian Catholic Church] overlooking Mirror Lake, it relocated into the city’s southwest corner. It’s there that this Christmastime photo was taken: the liquid oil candle sits atop the altar, a Christmas tree behind it.


The quintessential country church! Beside range road 210, just north of township road 491, Wilhelmina Evangelical Lutheran Church sits atop a hill overlooking farmers’ fields, northwest of Camrose. The majority of people in the area immigrated from northern Sweden, where the church played a large role in their lives. Because Fridhem church [see above] was all of 16 kilometres distant, they built their own: Wilhelmina opened in 1913…complete with an organ purchased in Winnipeg for $114.30. Canada Lutheran magazine once put the wintertime image on the front cover of a December issue.


All photos: Ken Fredrick



“We would deem it sacrilege to build a house for The One”

“There are no temples or shrines among us, save those of nature.” Ohiyesa, a Santee Sioux [1858-1939], explains religious truths as once understood by Native Americans—albeit in the toplofty style writers employed a century ago: “Being children of nature…[w]e would deem it sacrilege to build a house for The One who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and in the vast jewelled vault of the night sky!

“A God who is enrobed in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening campfire; who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth spirit upon fragrant southern airs, whose war canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas—such a God needs no lesser cathedral.”

[Ohiyesa’s writings, this one included, and those of other First Peoples, can be read in The Wisdom of the Native Americans, compiled and edited by Kent Nerburn, and published in 1999 by New World Library. The first Native American physician, Ohiyesa was known by whites as Charles Alexander Eastman. Under that name, his Soul of the Indian can be found in the SSUC Library.]