St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
The St. John’s Parish dates back to 1837 and is the oldest in Indianapolis and Marion County. The parish has built three churches with the current one being the second at this location. Construction began in 1867 and was not completed until 1871. Its famous twin spires were not added until 1893. The church is the center piece of a group of religious buildings located at the corner of Capitol and Georgia Streets to have been designed by famed Indianapolis architect Diedrich Bohlen. St. John’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Backstory and Context
Originally known as Holy Cross Parish, it held its first religious services, under Father Vincent Bacquelin, in a local tavern in 1837. The parish then built its first church, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, at the corner of Washington and California Streets in 1840. The parish grew quickly and it purchased a large lot, at its current location, in 1846. By 1850, its new church was completed and the parish changed its name to St. John the Evangilest the same year. The parish also added the first Catholic school in Indianapolis in 1859. However, that school has since been removed. As the parish continued to grow under the leadership of Father Augustus Bessonies, it hired architect Diedrich Bohlen in 1867 to design a larger place of worship.
Bohlen then designed a church that combined French Gothic and American Romanesque architectural styles. The simple cruciform plan of the church is constructed of red brick on a limestone foundation with limestone accents and includes a large nave and a shallow transept and four-sided apse. Bohlen also designed a large, arched main entrance just under a circular cluster of nine leaded-glass windows. The nave is supported by ribbed vaulting and Corinthian columnns. The ceiling of the apse is adorned with The Angels of Glory, a painting by Kentucky artist, Guy Leber. There is also artwork representing the Stations of the Cross and four separate chapels along the nave. The church’s hardwood floors were replaced with mosaic tile in 1905. Its famous rose window was destroyed in a hailstorm in 1923 and replaced by another that features St. John on the island of Patmos in 1924. A full-size representation of St. John can also be found on the church’s large, exterior tympanum.
The church’s rectory was completed in two phases, the first in 1863 and the three-story bishop’s residence was added in 1879. St. John’s recognizable, 194-foot, twin spires were designed by Deidrich Bohlen’s son, Oscar, in 1893. Oscar also oversaw the construction of the spires. While the church never served as the diocesan seat, it did serve as the pro-cathedral from 1871 until 1907 when the SS Peter and Paul Cathedral was completed. St. John’s also housed the diocesan Chancery until 1968 and the Metropolitan Tribunal until 1982. The church was renovated in 1971 in conjunction with its centennial anniversary and the spires were restored after $600,000 was raised by holding a raffle for Super Bowl tickets in 2012 when the game came to Indianapolis.
Widner, Thomas and Marie Wolf. "National Register of Historic Places -- Nomination Form." United States Department of the Interior/National Park Service. Accessed March 6, 2017. https://secure.in.gov/apps/dnr/shaard/r/2c8bf/N/St._John's_Church_&_Rectory_Marion_CO_Nom.pdf
Hostetler, Joan. "Indianapolis Then and Now: Saint John the Evangelist Church, 126 W. Georgia St." Historic Indianapolis. February 2, 2012. Accessed March 6, 2017. http://historicindianapolis.com/indianapolis-then-and-now-saint-john-the-evangelist-catholic-church-...
Hoefer, Natalie. "St. John Evangelist Parish celebrates 175 years of ministry." Archdiocese of Indianapolis. January 25, 2013. Accessed March 6, 2017. http://www.archindy.org/criterion/local/2013/01-25/john.html