Metro-East Living

East St. Louis church among top examples of Lithuanian-style architecture in the U.S.

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Two sites in the metro-east have been included on a new online map of Lithuanian-American heritage sites .

The East St. Louis Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception at 1509 Baugh Avenue is among the top 30 sites in the United States as the most faithful example of Modern Lithuania artistic style in church design, according to those who compiled the map.

Jerusalem Lutheran Church at 305 Collinsville Avenue in Collinsville, founded in 1903 by Lithuanian immigrants who were coal miners, also is included on the map.

The map project is partly sponsored by the Lithuanian government and features the work of Augustinas Zemaitis and his wife, Aiste, who live in Vilnius, Lithuania, but traveled around the United States researching sites and compiling information on significant Lithuanian-American heritage sites.

The couple met with parishioners at the two churches to gather stories and history on the sites.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception was organized in East St. Louis in 1895 and the current building was completed in 1956. The parish was mainly Lithuanian immigrants. Like other churches on East St. Louis that were primarily one immigrant leaning or another, the parish shrank and was combined with others.

The impressive church is easily visible from Interstate 64, although most motorists might not realize its significance.

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The Church of the Immaculate Conception, visible from Interstate 64 in East St. Louis, is an example of Lithuanian-inspired church architecture. Provided

“In terms of 100 percent fidelity to Modern Lithuanian artistic style in church design, there is perhaps no better example in the entire United States,” Zemaitis said. Every single art work and detail by Lithuanian-born architects Jonas Mulokas and Vytautas K. Jonynas is absolutely authentic, from the church’s sun crosses and its stained glass windows depicting sacred Lithuanian figures and historical events, down to the smallest wood carving. Even the church’s tower is in the form of a Lithuanian wayside shrine.”

Zemaitis said the architects and many parishioners of the church were refugees who fled Lithuania when it was fought over by Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II. It became a socialist republic of the Soviet Union after the war until it declared independence before the breakup of the U.S.S.R.

“They sought to recreate a piece of Lithuania in the middle of the United States,” he said.

Jerusalem Lutheran Church was influenced more by coal miners from the south of Lithuania, who were shoved out of their country by the Imperial Russian government around the turn of the 20th Century.

Immaculate Conception has an impressive 55 stained glass windows of many sizes. An accompanying Lithuanian school was closed in 1968 and later burned. The church has been designated as a chapel of nearby St. Augustine of Hippo Church and is open only for Mass on Sundays at 10:30 a.m.

The map, containing 550 sites overall, is available online at map.truelithuania.com. There also are sites in Chicago and other Midwestern cities and a plethora along the East Coast. Immigrants often flocked to Rust Belt cities and Chicago had a Lithuanian population larger than any city in Lithuania, according to Zemaitis.

Even more information about Immaculate Conception and other sites is available from Zemaitis online at globaltrue.Lithuania,com.

Wally Spiers: wally.spiers@gmail.com
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