My Visitor Guide

Ashland Mural Walk

Churches of our Landscape

Click to zoom photo 

Click to zoom photo 

When I drive through Wisconsin, my eyes are always alert for what I often do not know. In browsing through my photos of the state, I discovered that my eye is frequently attracted to churches, especially those at a distance, those that seem part of the landscape. I have briefly explored why that might be. I am startled by how much is written about this subject.

Richard Morris, an Englishman and an Oxford graduate in archeology, has written a book, “Churches in the Landscape.” His objective with this book was to discover why churches are where they are.  A church spire in the distance highlights, I think, an ideal held by agrarian societies. I suspect this is very true in Wisconsin, an agrarian state.

Churches have been places where people gather. The architecture reflects historical tradition. They have been sanctuaries, often the anchor of a farm community. I am sure each church I display here reflects the community’s culture. I read once that pastors in Wisconsin would often select a location for their new church across the way from a tavern. They understood the tavern was a gathering place. They would walk across the way into the tavern to suggest to the clientele that they come to church. This would enable them to fill the pews, after which the parishioners would return to the tavern!

The churches I show here are Christian churches, either in a rural setting or in a small town or city, sometimes in a village, sometimes out in the fields on their own. They are part of the scenery, part of the landscape, as Richard Morris might say. Their singular feature in my eyes is that they tower above. I present these photos hoping that you will reflect on these churches and think about what they signify to you. You can surely go beyond the religious aspects of the church and delve into the culture the church might represent.

Indeed church steeples were specifically designed to stand above all other structures in the town, in part so people could hear the bells ringing. They also served to remind people that God should be held above all else. In the day, the church was among the first buildings to go up. The upward scope of the steeple attracted people to the town. The pastors hoped that, in turn, would attract them to worship at the church.

Our society today is changing. Wisconsin’s famous red barns of the past are collapsing and being replaced by pole barns to save in costs. Churches like the ones I will show are also not being replaced in kind. Let’s enjoy them while we still have them, just like the red barn.

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