Posted by on August 11, 2011 in Architecture - 6 Comments

Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church – Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church, Bloomfield, Michigan

Along the pastoral southeastern shore of Island Lake sits the most striking example of Gothic architecture in all of southeast Michigan, Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church. Patterned after Scotland’s 14th-century Melrose Abbey, the church was built between 1951 and 1958 and designed by one of the most respected architects in Detroit’s history, George D. Mason. Discussion persists on the subject of Wirt Rowland‘s involvement in the design of Kirk, but the general consensus seems to be that Rowland’s only contributions to the project were preliminary drawings that were never actually used. The fact that Kirk wasn’t completed until the late 50s, nearly 12 years after Rowland’s passing, tends to support this argument. Nevertheless, Rowland’s image is immortalized in sculpture on the church’s east facade along with Mason and two other men instrumental in its development: Reverend Doctor Leslie Bechtel, the church’s first minister, and Colonel Edwin S. George, who in 1947 donated the land on which it was built, and much of the cold, hard cash to pay for it.

Kirk embodies many of the dominant paradigms in Gothic church construction, including a cruciform layout, breathtaking vaulted ceilings, tons of stained glass, a cloister, a cinquefoil rose window and ogee arches throughout. The ‘Tower of the Apostles’, just to the west of the sanctuary, houses one of the world’s largest carillons, or so we’re told. (A carillon, fyi, is a musical instrument made up of multiple bells of varying sizes and tone, sounded by a keyboard.) Numerous sculptural embellishments by Corrado Parducci and Lee Lawrie are found inside and out, though it’s usually hard to say whose work is who’s. I Love Detroit Michigan highly recommends its readers contact Kirk administrators through their website, to learn more about the church’s history with a guided tour and discussion with their well informed docents. It was a Kirk docent who taught us back in 2009 that the four small sculpted panels of locusts, a rabbit, a spider and an ant on the north facade were, in fact, sculpted by Parducci and inspired by a verse from the Old Testament, Proverbs, Chapter 30, Verses 24 through 28, which reads: “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer; The conies (aka rabbits) are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” Extensive custom Pewabic Pottery flooring in the narthex rounds out the remarkably varied palette of decorative elements found here. ~I♥DM

About the author

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Dale Carlson grew up along the northeastern shores of Lake Michigan, where at a young age Detroit called out to him in his dreams. In 2008, after extended stays in ten different Michigan cities, the author settled permanently in southeast Oakland County where he currently lives and works in various capacities within the local real estate industry.

6 Comments

  1. Carolin
    Posted August 16, 2011 at 8:50 am

    The church is magnificent.

  2. Posted August 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful images, Dale. I am pretty sure that the little grotesque of St. George and the Dragon are Lawrie’s, they resemble his style at Boys Town and other examples of his work in the 1950s.

    Beautifully shot images, too!

  3. Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:33 am

    [...] House (1922) in the Boston-Edison neighborhood, the Detroit Yacht Club (1923) on Belle Isle, and Bloomfield Township’s Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church [...]

  4. Posted October 9, 2011 at 2:51 am

    [...] Pewabic tile floor mosaic #1 (c.1958), Kirk in the Hills narthex, 1340 West Long Lake Rd, Bloomfield [...]

  5. Posted June 16, 2012 at 2:42 am

    [...] Rowland produced what might be considered his final work: a number of preliminary drawings for Kirk In The Hills Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield Township, a neo-Gothic design completed by George Mason and constructed in the [...]

  6. Einar
    Posted September 8, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    I feel that I have a pretty good grasp on who did what sculpture here – thought being 1000 miles (give or take) away makes it tough to double check. Einar

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