Inside The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer

Posted by Frances Ma on

This week we delve into the Pewabic tile work commissioned for The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Detroit, Michigan. This massive edifice was built in 1921 and dedicated in 1923. It was once estimated to be the largest Roman Catholic parish in North America.

Exterior of The Church of The Most Holy Redeemer 

Pewabic tile can be found on the vestry floor, the aisleways, and on the floor of the main altar of the interior. The exterior facade features two lunettes above the doorway–– depicting two angels in prayer with mosaic medallion insets. 

Pewabic Co-Founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton writes: “At the time we were executing the library work, we were also making two lunette panels for the exterior of the church of the Holy Redeemer, under the direct supervision of Walter Meier, architect, who was also one of our personal friends.”

Fun Fact: the lunettes from this installation were being crafted at the same time as the Pewabic mosaic tiles for the Detroit Public Library

The words “Gloria in Excelsis” are set in a border of pineapples and annunciation lilies above this lunette are meant to symbolize the birth of Christ. Our 4”x6” Pineapple Tile reminds us of the border along these ambitious tile pieces.

Terra cotta sculpted tile details

Pewabic’s devotional collection of decorative tiles pay tribute to the extensive tile work commissioned in various parishes, cathedrals, churches and basilicas. Most notably, The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception located in Washington, D.C.

 Tile work on interior floors of The Church of The Most Holy Redeemer

Let’s take a closer look at the interior floor installations. Terra cotta, unglazed tile is accented with glazed units modeled to depict symbolic eccelesiastical forms. The Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are represented by their symbolic forms in these intricate, sculpted tiles.

Four Evangelists tile details (left) and unglazed Pewabic tile on interior floors (right) 

This was a huge project for the pottery in 1922. Co-Founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton charged over $12,000 for this project which equates to around $200,000 in 2020.

Exterior with lunette above doorway (left) and Pewabic tile work surrounding interior altar (right) 

Our archives team has been working to catalog historic records, images, and correspondences regarding Pewabic tile installations throughout the city and beyond. Do you have a personal connection to The Church of the Most Holy Redeemer? Would you like to hear more about a particular Pewabic piece or installation? We encourage you to reach out through the comments section, or on our social channels (@Pewabic) as we continue to share highlights of Pewabic’s past and present.

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  • I also recognized this edifice immediately after attending school from 1958 to 1971 along with the best classmates a person could ever hope to spend that amount of time with. I had no idea what Pewabic anything was until I read this article. I always knew that Holy Redeemer was a special place in a very special city.

    Mark Welch on
  • My father graduated from Holy Redeemer high school in 1942. My family has deep roots in Detroit and this article on Pewabic pottery at Holy Redeemer will bring warm feelings. Thank you

    annie bussinger on
  • I immediately recognized the building in this photo, as I attended Holy Redeemer High School from 1983-1987. During this time I spent many hours in the church—listening to sermons, breathing in frankincense, and confessing my “sins” to elderly priests. I made the sacrament of confirmation and even served as an extra there for the 1987 film, The Rosary Murders, starring Donald Sutherland and Charles Durning, and produced by Robert Laurel, who had graduated from Holy Redeemer High School in 1956. Their trailers were stationed in the parking lot between the church and the high school. (The Holy Redeemer complex consumed almost an entire city block, like a giant four poster, anchored in the corners by the church/rectory, grade school, convent, and high school, all of which surrounded a bed of asphalt used primarily as a parking lot). As a teenager, I was oblivious to the magnificent detail and artistic skill involved in constructing this impressive house of worship. Such an awareness would develop slowly over time, well beyond my high school years and the struggles of teen angst, which I believe were largely due to a lack of creative expression.

    As a self-described “artphobe,” I avoided trying my hand at anything artistic until I was in my late thirties (I’m now fifty years old), when a friend encouraged me to take a class at Pewabic Pottery. I’d grown to appreciate the beauty of Pewabic tiles and finally gathered the courage to enroll in a tile making class. However, due to a scheduling conflict, I switched to a throwing class. After overcoming my terror at the prospect of throwing clay on the potter’s wheel (I didn’t actually know what throwing was until the first day of class), I quickly fell in love with clay and began to feel quite at home in the education studio. With the help of patient instructors (including the late, great JoAnn Aquinto) and fellow students, I managed to hone my skills as a potter and now have my own home studio. One of my greatest pleasures in life has been the opportunity to share my work with others.

    Working with clay has profoundly enriched my life. And while clay remains my preferred medium for creative expression, my experience with it has offered me the confidence to experiment with other art forms as well. I wonder now—in seeing these images of an old, familiar structure with new, admiring eyes—if perhaps my love of pottery began quietly (even spiritually) as I crossed the threshold and approached the altar at Holy Redeemer Church.

    Maria Williams on
  • Fantastic. Thanks for this story. Maybe, when we can safely gather again, a guided walking tour could be put together of a few old buildings in Detroit that feature Pewabic installations? Holy Redeemer Church included? Thanks. Great job.

    Brian McAtamney on
  • Fantastic. Thanks for highlighting the history of Pewabic in major building projects in the Detroit area. Please continue these stories. Maybe, when we can safely gather again, a guidedwalking tou

    Brian McAtamney on
  • Thank you so much! I’ve certainly heard of Most Holy Redeemer, but I had no idea it had so much Pewabic pottery. Stunning!

    Sherry D. Kammer on
  • I love that your work is all over Detroit. We had Pewabic tile on our fireplace 601 Lodge Dr. Detroit 48214. Some of the tiles in Holy Redeemer matched ours. I went to Annunciation and there is Pewabic tile in that church as well. Never noticed it all those years we were in school there.

    Laural Roberts on

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