Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church – Bloomfield Hills, 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