St. Joseph Oratory – Detroit, Michigan - Atlas Obscura

St. Joseph Oratory

Once the tallest building in Detroit, this Gothic church houses some of the oldest stained-glass windows in the country.  


Visitors to St. Joseph Oratory in Detroit’s Eastern Market District might hear the Latin of the increasingly rare Tridentine Mass echoing off the stone floors and high ceiling. Language and rite aren’t the only old things here, though. As the first church in the United States to feature stained-glass windows from the world-renowned Mayer & Company, most elements of St. Joseph Oratory have remained largely unchanged from a stylistic perspective.

Elegant white columns extend up towards a vaulted cyan ceiling adorned with golden stars symbolizing the heavens. Celestial imagery aside, the topography of the ceiling is itself a masterpiece, full of peaks and sharp arches. As alluded to, the church’s most distinguishing interior feature is the ornate stained-glass, replete with colorful geometrical patterns and depictions of biblical figures, sacraments, and assorted Catholic imagery.

The exterior of St. Joseph’s is similarly striking. Architect Francis G. Himpler’s design for the Victorian Gothic Revival-style church and its bell tower was completed in 1873. Twenty years later, a 200-foot steeple was added, temporarily earning St. Joseph’s the title of tallest building in Detroit. In 2016, the steeple suffered severe damage from a wind storm, and this, combined with other structural wear and tear that had accumulated over the years, lead to fear of the church’s closure. A massive fundraising effort helped avert this outcome, and the church and its steeple now stand renewed and tall.

Combined, the features both inside and outside St. Joseph Oratory has earned it a spot on the National Registry of Historic Places. Only a 10-minute walk from the Eastern Market Corporation, once you’ve loaded up on local food and coffee, swing by to see St. Joseph’s. Providing that there is no Mass or sacrament underway, the doors are open to visitors, free of charge. 

Know Before You Go

Entrance is free, but check to make sure there are no Masses or sacraments going on during the time you want to visit.

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