Art and Architecture

St. Michael in Old Town - Interior


The Altars of St.Michael

The fifteenth pastor of Saint Michael in Old town started the plans for the Golden Jubilee Celebration in early 1901. In 1902, five new altars were completed by E. Hackner & Sons of Lacrosse Wisconsin, and installed. These are carved wood that has been painted in the Baroque style.

As was popular at the time 2,000 light bulbs illuminated the altars of the church and the arches. Two of these light bulbs are still in place on the Poor Souls altar. All others were removed in 1952.

In addition, a carving depicting “The Last Supper” was inset into the base of the High Altar of Angels. This carving was purchased by Saint Michael in Old Town at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. The carving, completed by an Italian artist from one piece of wood, was presented for sale in the Italian Pavilion.

In addition to the High Altar of Angels are from left to right; The Poor Souls Altar, The Sacred Heart Altar, The Family Altar (or Saint Joseph Altar), and the most revered Our Mother of Perpetual Help Altar.

Stained Glass Windows

For more than a century, this remarkable collection of stained glass windows has graced generations with its beauty and teachings. They are the high point for the visitors and parishioners alike. These windows communicate their message of Redemption without the need for words.

Essential to the architect and builder August Walbaum’s design for Saint Michael were extraordinary, tall, thin windows. The windows have distinctive Romanesque arched tops, accented by massive corbels supporting plasterwork hoods. The repetition of the windows and the columns in this Romanesque style is a pleasing harmony as a visitor enters the church.

Initially, cost prevented the windows from being anything but frosted glass. Without heat in the church, interior gutters were needed to capture condensation in the frigid Chicago weather. This first set of windows was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Another set of frosted glass was put in place for the restored church which was dedicated in 1873. Later in 1878, the parish replaced the second set of windows with a tinted glass set of windows. It wasn’t until 1902 when the parish was celebrating the Golden Jubilee that the current stained glass was installed.

The Royal Bavarian Establishment for Ecclesiastical Art was selected to create the main windows of the nave of Saint Michael. (The Royal comes from King Ludwig II of Bavaria.) This company was better known at the time as Franz Mayer & Company from Munich, Bavaria, Germany. The art form of stained glass was at the zenith. At that time, centuries of knowledge had been accumulated about the craft, the techniques, and the materials and Franz Mayer produced the finest stained glass of this time.

The west windows of the nave portray time in the life of our Blessed Mother Mary and are referred to as the Marian Windows. The east windows focus on events in the life of our Holy Redeemer. Elaborate lacey architecture fills the top of each window and Franz Mayer uses that same lacey design at the bottom of each window. This was not done only for a decorative reason. This design provided Franz Mayer with a more manageable sized area to create the Biblical scene. The size and proportions of the windows were very important since Franz Mayer’s reputation was for realism and expression.

Materials are key to the brilliance of these windows. Gold dust achieves the deep red tones, uranium ore brings out the green color and cobalt provides the beautiful blues of Mary’s garments. The garments are those of Renaissance Europe with fabrics of rich velvet, brocade and silk, not the garments of Jesus’ time.

The Kilgen Organ

The Gallery pipe organ at St. Michael’s in Old Town was installed in 1925 by George Kilgen & Sons Pipe Organ Company of St. Louis, Missouri, as Kilgen Opus 3406. While no historical corroboration exists, it’s believed that several ranks (sets of pipes) from the previous and much smaller 1899 Pilcher pipe organ were retained and incorporated into the new instrument.

St. Michael in Old Town - entrance and choir loft

Like all pipe organs, the Kilgen is divided into several smaller organs called divisions, each having its own particular function. The organ includes three manual, (hand-played), divisions known as the Great, Swell & Choir, each with its own keyboard. The bass notes of the organ are played by the feet from the division known as the Pedal division. Each division houses several unique ranks with individual pipes ranging in length from less than an inch to upwards of 16 feet. In total, the organ contains 41 ranks and 2,690 pipes. Only one new stop is being added. The stop is referred to as a compound stop (several pipes at different pitches played from one note) and is used to add brilliance when combined with foundation stops.

The Scope of Work can best be described as a complete refurbishing of mechanical and pneumatic components with the installation of modern control systems. Additionally, all pipes in the organ will be returned to their original playing condition. A new console, (keyboards, stop controls, etc.) is being installed to insure that optimal use of the organ’s resources is made possible. Once completed, the organ will reflect the emotion and power of the romantic period with additional flexibility made possible by the new console.

Currently, the Swell division and portions of the Pedal division have been refurbished and are, once again, playing as intended. When looking up at the balcony, the Swell division (the largest division in the organ) is located behind the pipe-facade on the left-hand side. The new console and blower will be installed during winter 2011, while the Great and Choir divisions and remainder of the Pedal division await the availability of additional funding.

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