Constructed in 1870, Calvary Presbyterian Church is one of the oldest surviving churches in Milwaukee and among of the first religious buildings in the city to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today widely known as the Big Red Church, the building is regarded as an outstanding example of church architecture in the Neo-Gothic (or Victorian Gothic) style. Calvary holds a prominent place on the Milwaukee historic landscape as the first building designed by Milwaukee master architect Henry C. Koch, a commission received shortly after he had launched his firm with fellow architect Julian Hess. Featuring an elongated spire, elegant design, and dramatic red exterior, Calvary’s signature style helped to launch Koch’s firm to greater prominence, and the architect would later go on to design several Milwaukee landmarks including Turner Hall, Church of the Gesu, City Hall, Hotel Pfister, and City Hall. Guides will welcome visitors and narrate stories behind some of the historic features of Calvary, including its unique stained glass windows adorned with Wisconsin native wildflowers, and the repairs to the building following a major fire in 1947, the result of arson whose perpetrator was later discovered to be the church’s own minister at the time. On view will be an informative historical documentary and many archival pictures of the building through the years, and visitors will have a chance to walk the Labyrinth, located in the church’s sanctuary, which is a full-size replica of the medieval 41-foot labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral. For his redesign of the sanctuary in 1998, William Hiltner won an award from the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA-WI). With the removal of pews and the installation of sails hung from the ceiling to improve acoustics, the renovation created an open, welcoming and versatile space that still maintained its Neo-Gothic style. In addition to being a church-home on Sundays for its congregation, it is also used by the community for various purposes, including concerts, retreats, public labyrinth walks, weddings, and live theater performances.
Guides will welcome visitors and point out some of the historic features of Calvary, including the award-winning, 1998 redesign of the sanctuary, the historic and unique stained glass windows, and the repairs to the building from an arson’s fire in 1947. Guides will also tell the story of one member’s complaint that the west spire was too narrow to stand and that he could pull it down with a team of horses. Many pictures of the building through the years will be on display as well.
In addition, the sanctuary will open on the 22nd at 5:00 pm, so the church will be hosting a special public labyrinth that evening. The labyrinth will run from 5:00 – 6:30pm.