Chapter 7,   p. 3


      Some Germans had lived in the city of St. Louis since it had been founded. Many newcomers were eager to purchase land in the territory west of the Mississippi. Before they could do so, they took jobs in cities like Cincinnati or Milwaukee, to save enough money to enable them to become landowners. Dr. Don Heinrich Tolzmannn in a chapter on "Settlement Patterns" in his book The German-American Experience discusses the importance of St. Louis "as a major distribution center for German immigrants in the Midwest. Settlements extended north and south on the Missouri as well as the Mississippi, where the Germans had come from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, and Virginia. Later peasants from Westfalen and Hannover arrived and were followed by barons, merchants, officers, students, and clergymen."[27]

      The greatest influx of Germans occurred between 1840 and 1850 in the years immediately before and after the unsuccessful German Revolution of 1848. One group of German immigrants that made an important impact on nineteenth century North America, were a few thousand Republican freedom fighters, generally referred to as the Forty-Eighters. Dr. Tolzmannn describes them eloquently: "Most of the earlier immigrants had been farmers, tradesmen, and craftsmen, but the Forty-Eighters were well educated.  They were generally teachers, doctors, lawyers, editors, artists, and musicians. It is no wonder then, that they were able to contribute to a German-American cultural renaissance".[28] Nowhere did the Forty-Eighters contribute more to this renaissance than in Missouri and in the city of St. Louis. Carl Schurz, Friedrich Hecker, Carl Daenzer, and others remind us of the influence of the Forty-Eighters on politics, especially during and after the Civil War. The Germans were for the most part anti-slavery and eager to preserve the Union. In a book meant to attract and prepare prospective German emigrants, Friedrich Muench, an early settler in Missouri, wrote The State of Missouri portrayed with special regard to German immigration. It was published in 1859 and contained an amazingly detailed description of all aspects of life in twenty-seven chapters from "Climate", "Wild Animals", "Farming", "Beer and Wine making", "Constitution" and "Literature" to "Churches", "Slavery", "Nativism", and "Important Missouri Cities other than St. Louis".[29] The book portrayed a very appealing aspect of the state.

      Religiously, the German immigrants to Missouri were evenly divided between the Protestant and Catholic faith. However, as early as 1834, St. Louis established a service in the German language at the Old Cathedral, which at that time was the only Catholic church in the city.[30] Several German Catholic parishes were founded in St. Louis in the 1840's.  In 1841 the city had 30,000 inhabitants, half of whom were Catholics. In 1844 the church of Our Lady of Victories was founded for a German congregation, and five years later two additional churches, SS. Peter and Paul and Holy Trinity, began to fulfill the needs of the growing German Catholic population. One of the grandest of German churches in St. Louis was St. Anthony. In the year 1858 several Franciscan priests from Saxony, Westphalia, Silesia, and the Rhineland were sent to the United States.  They arrived in September in Teutopolis, Effingham County, Illinois, where they built a monastery. The following year one of the Franciscans was sent to Quincy, Illinois, to establish a second monastery dedicated to St. Francis Solanus, and three years later the Franciscans received permission to create a parish in St. Louis for resident German Catholics. Again it was Franciscan Brother Adrian Wewer, who was assigned the task to draw up the plans for the new church dedicated to St. Anthony.[31] Twenty-five years after the 1869 consecration of the church, the Souvenir book of St. Anthony, still written in German, described the interior decorative paintings by Wenceslaus Thien, the statues by the Schroeder Brothers, and Wilhelm Lamprecht's murals.[32] All of these German-American church artists had become well known by 1869 through their works in different parts of the United States. St. Anthony church was torn down in 1912, when a larger edifice was erected. None of the original art works have been preserved.

      This seems to have been the fate of a majority of nineteenth century Catholic churches that served German immigrants in Missouri. The two most spectacular nineteenth century churches still standing in St. Louis are St. Francis de Sales and SS. Peter and Paul. Rather than painters or altar builders, St. Louis attracted German architects. A significant number of them settled in the United States around 1865. Among them were priests or members of religious orders. The best known was the Franciscan Brother Adrian Wewer, who designed the church of St. Francis Solanus at Quincy, Illinois, and St. Anthony in St. Louis. Making St. Louis his home base, Brother Wewer traveled across the country to build monasteries and parish churches.[33] He had no training as an architect, yet seems to have possessed a gift for remembering the structural intricacies of his homeland's church buildings.

      Two German architects with impeccable credentials were able to leave memorable church buildings in the American Midwest. Franz Georg Himpler and Adolphus Druiding built Gothic revival churches for Germans during the second half of the nineteenth century. It was Himpler who designed SS. Peter and Paul in St. Louis. Himpler was born near Trier, Germany, in 1833, and studied at the Royal Academy of Architecture in Berlin between 1854 and 1858. figure 104In 1867 he came to the United States and settled in Atchison, Kansas, where he designed St. Benedict Abbey. Between 1873 and 1875 Himpler built his German Gothic masterpiece in America: SS. Peter and Paul Church in St. Louis. (Figure 104). The interior of the church is modeled on the Cathedral of Cologne and the Liebfrauenkirche of Trier, Himpler's birthplace.[34] Unfortunately, the original interior furnishings of SS. Peter and Paul are no longer in place, but this German parish church of St. Louis still attests to the great talent of its immigrant architect.

       Adolphus Druiding was born in 1839 in Hannover. He studied in Berlin and Munich and settled in St. Louis after his arrival in the United States around 1865. He was more successful in his career as a church designer than Himpler, because he was willing to erect modest rather than grandiose buildings. St. Louis and the Midwest were ideal locations for his practice. Druiding designed a number of small churches in St. Louis. They have been demolished or remain unidentified today. An early St. Louis church building by Druiding was St. John Nepomuk, the oldest Czech congregation in the United States. It was almost completely destroyed by a tornado in 1896.[35] Later in his life, during the 1880's, Druiding built larger parish churches for German Catholics in many small midwestern towns. Typically he used red brick, which was an inexpensive building material. The architect continued to design churches into the 1890's. Around the turn of the century, a group of second- generation German-Catholic architects took over. figure 105In St. Louis it was Viktor Klutho, who built the " great Gothic monument of German Catholicism, St. Francis de Sales in 1907."[36] Klutho was also responsible for the Benedictine Convent church at Ferdinand in southwestern Indiana. The dome of the church is patterned after a Druiding design (Figure 105). The city of St. Louis had historically nourished two generations of architects with roots in German ecclesiastical building styles.

      Also located in St. Louis was the Emil Frei Glass Company, known for its beautiful stained glass windows. A 1911 advertisement in a publication listing The Notable Catholic Institutions of St. Louis and Vicinity reminds the reader that "the Company supplied two hundred new churches from New York to San Francisco with figure windows.  Our work is equal in every respect to the best imported."[37] The founder of the Company, Emil Frei, was born in Bavaria in 1867, emigrated to the United States and settled in St. Louis in 1900. He received many commissions and won a grand prize at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. After his death in 1941, his son Robert succeeded him in the business.[38] There was a great demand for stained glass windows in new Catholic churches in North America in the late nineteenth century. Before Emil Frei opened his studio, Franz Mayer had supplied artistically designed windows to U.S. churches of German origin. The Mayer Company also exported religious statuary to German-American churches during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is important to recall the active commerce of ecclesiastical art objects that tied Germany to the United States.

       Abbot Boniface Wimmer's missionary zeal to expand his Benedictine order's monasteries and teaching institutions, led two priests from St. Vincent in Pennsylvania to Atchison, Kansas, in 1857. By that year Abbot Wimmer had thirty-eight priests at his disposal. The two priests set up a mission at Atchison with a generous donation from King Ludwig's Ludwig-Missionsverein. The cornerstone of the priory and college building in Atchison was laid in 1859. In 1866 Adolphus Druiding built St. Benedict Abbey church at the site.[39] In 1879 the German-American painter Johann Schmitt of Covington, Kentucky, sent two canvases to his friend the Reverend Innocent Wolf, who was abbot in Atchison at that time. One of them depicts The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the other St. Joseph with the Christ child. These paintings were personal gifts and not commissions.[40] Repeated inquiries have failed to establish whether the two art works are still at the Atchison Abbey.

     Looking back at the beginning of an organized expansion by the German-American Benedictine Boniface Wimmer, it is astounding that he managed to establish such a great number of monastic settlements and parishes for his countrymen in a relatively short period of time. He not only saw to the building of churches, but also to the quality of art placed in their interiors. A heritage of German religious art has been preserved through his effort and that of the church artists he recruited. A wealth of beautiful devotional art works was created by a group of German-Americans in their adopted country. It remains for us to appreciate and treasure their artistry.

<< previous page

Return to Table of Contents
Return to Top of Page



 [27]    Don Heinrich Tolzmannn,The German-American Experience, Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books (2000) p. 131.

 [28]  Ibid., p. 137.

 [29]  As quoted by Siegmar Muehl, "Shock of the New: Advising Mid-Nineteenth Century German Immigrants to Missouri",Yearbook of German-American Studies, Lawrence, KS: The Society for German-American Studies: University of Kansas (1998) pp. 98-99.

 [30]  Thornton, Adelmann, Barnett,The Notable Catholic Institutions of Saint Louis and Vicinity, St. Louis, MO: Curran Printing Co. (1911) p. 89.

 [31]  Reverend John Rothensteineer,History of the Archdiocese of St. Louis from 1673-1928, vol. 2, St. Louis, MO: Blackwell Wielansky Co. (1928) p. 104.

 [32]  Franziskus Albers, O.S.F.,Souvenir der Antonius Kirche zum 25. Jubilaeum, St. Louis, MO (1928) p. 5.

 [33]  Roy A. Hampton III, "German Gothic in the Midwest,"U.S. Catholic Historian, vol. 15, no. 1, Baltimore, MD: Our Sunday Visitor (1997) p. 54.

 [34]  Ibid.,4 p. 57.

 [35]  Ibid., p. 64

 [36]  Ibid., p. 62-65.

 [37]  The Notable Catholic Institutions of St. Louis and Vicinity, St. Louis, MO: The Finkenbeiner-Reid Publishing Co. (1911).

 [38]   James J. Divita Splendor of the South Side, A History of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish in Indianapolis 1875-2000, Indianapolis, IN: Sacred Heart Pastoral Council (2000) p. 41.

 [39]   Peter Beckman, O.S.B., Kansas Monks, A History of St. Benedict Abbey, Atchison, KA: Abbey Student Press (1941) p. 30.

 [40]   Diomede Pohlkamp, O.F.M., "A Franciscan Artist of Kentucky", Franciscan Studies, vol. 7, St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute (1947) p. 166.