The current church building, completed in 1917, was designed in a neo-gothic style by the architecture firm of Worthman and Steinbach. Henry Worthman is said to have described the unique tower design as "a finger pointing to God for all of Chicago to see." The interior is built from plaster and wood, lending it a warmth and economy while retaining the artistic feel of a medieval Gothic cathedral. The stained glass windows are of exceptional quality and are a distinctive feature of St. James.
The windows were designed and made by the John J. Kinsella Company of Chicago, which is generally considered to have been the finest Tiffany style stained glass company in Chicago. St. James was one of the company's first major undertakings, followed rapidly by a number of other projects including St. John Berchmans in Logan Square and St. James Chapel at Quigley Prep. Seminary. Sadly, the company did not survive the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Named after the famous New York Studio, the new Tiffany style of glass was produced only after manufacturing techniques improved during the 19th century. Unlike glass-making methods of the medieval period, manufacturers now had the ability to produce glass in every color. In some cases, glass was layered and overlapped to achieve just the right hue as evidenced in the deep blues and reds in a number of our windows. The finished effect, which is exceptionally lifelike, is achieved solely through the use of glass - only the faces and feet are painted, and those, too, are beautifully rendered.
Both the symbolic windows and the narrative windows are testament to Kinsella's great craftsmanship and artistry. Many symbolic windows of the period were mass-produced by stenciling onto glass, which was then fired, but at St. James the symbols have been entirely fabricated by using extraordinarily small pieces of glass in just the proper hue. The same extraordinary level of artistry is apparent in the narrative windows: the depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is considered to be one of the finest examples of its kind. It took incredible talent to select and fire just the right shade of glass to achieve the lifelike sky, the divine light from above, and Jesus' flowing robe.
The Use of Symbols and Emblems in the Christian Church
Symbols have been used by the church since earliest times to teach biblical truths to those unable to read. They have also been used as secret signs among believers fearful of persecution and as a means of memorializing God's divine activity in human history. Using symbols in the church and teaching about their meaning is a way of proclaiming that the earth is the Lord's and that he is sovereign over human history. Symbols provide a way for us to carry our spiritual awareness out of the sanctuary and into the created world, making it a part of our human experience.