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.
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.
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.
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.