Review: Historic Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church
Historic Trinity Lutheran Church

Historic Trinity Lutheran Church 5 stars

Yelp! Elite Review

One of the reasons I love this city, for all its maligned and ill-deserved reputation, is the abundance of hidden treasures lurking around every corner. I had no idea Trinity Lutheran Church existed within spitting distance of Ford Field and on the backside of Eastern Market. Had Yelp not posted about the holiday bazaar there, I would have remained ignorant of the mother church of Lutheranism in Michigan and the splendours contained therein. Let me say, Detroit, that you never cease to amaze me as you withhold your surprises until you decide to showcase them in grand style. I’m humbled and sometimes saddened to think of all the magnificent architecture and artistic wonders that may have faded due to lack of love.

My beau, a Catholic, and I wandered down into the Trinity on the weekend. The weather was brisk, snow starting to fall, and a friendly gentleman directed us to park in the lot of the Bureau of the Census. I’ve always wanted to work for them, so now I know where to drop off my application if there is ever an opportunity. But I digress.

From the exterior, Trinity is pretty but not particularly immense or impressive. Stone spires and a blocky exterior fit the Germanic origins nicely enough. It looks like one of a dozen churches in the area, albeit weathering time better than some of its compatriots on the Woodward Corridor. (SIGH. Please, restore these lovely buildings. You owe it to yourselves to be surrounded by the gems this city and its suburbs boast. Really! Take it from someone who comes from a city where 90 years old is considered a heritage site!)

Inside is a whole other story. Church offices open up on one stone corridor, while to the immediate side is a lovely reception room with a roaring fireplace right down to an electric fire-log to keep things pretty. Stained glass lushly illuminates every windowpane. And this Christmas, there were the grandiose and professionally decorated trees: one adorned in lacework, wrapped up in a broad silk ribbon, another decorated with partridges and crowned in an exuberant burst of partridge feathers fit to make a drag queen swoon in adoration.

The nativity scenes from around the world line each wall, ranging from Mikasa porcelain sets down to humble Peruvian woven works, giving ethnic detail to Mary’s robe and Christ’s tiny blanket in the manger. The collection is a hallmark of the church and worth investigating in detail, since the cultural richness of the displays is really a museum-quality exploration of Christmas around the world. In particular I was highly moved by the simple ebonywood carving of a beatific angel guarding over a child Mary clutching at a young Joseph’s arm and the angel’s wings embracing them both as he looks up to the Lord. *Amazing* stuff even if you aren’t particularly religious or a secular humanist.

Upstairs is a full hall with a stage, used in this case for the Christmas German market. A live band was playing, beeswax ornaments were next to sacher torte (!!) and other sweets for sale by an enthusiastic crowd. Children, elderly folks, and young people all rubbed shoulders at the tables, eating their sweets and talking about everything and anything. It’s a real sight for the community, Detroit at its finest.

But save the best for last. Look at that gorgeous, drop-dead amazing church rooted all the way back to 1850. I’ve seen a few of the great churches of England and Scotland, and Trinity hearkens to their elaborate, awe-inspiring beauty that makes people go for art history degrees. The stories and images of Christ’s life are portrayed in stained glass with a decided Victorian feel: elaborate, luminous, and alive. Every detail is dripping with meaning from the wooden casements of the entryway and painted beams on the ceiling of the corridor to the bas relief carving of the altarpiece itself. Spare some time to appreciate the gallery and the pews, the amount of work and the labour of love which went into crafting the stonework, and the immense vertical thrust of the building. Medieval churches sought to embrace the majesty of Heaven with space, and the illusion of great height and volume draw the eye upwards to contemplate the majestic windows or the lofty ceiling. Just to put things into perspective, the 10-12′ tall Christmas tree up near the altar didn’t seem out of proportion at all, despite having massive globes and illuminated ornaments and reaching the second floor gallery.

The illusion is quite complete, since the height of the building doesn’t seem sufficient to contain the size of the cathedral proper. The pews are set close enough together to remain intimate and the acoustics have to be glorious.

Really, this is an exquisite place. I want to wander through with the help of the self-guided tour directory and explore deeper. The many pamphlets explain the history of the building, details like the bells and the imagery used, and the extensive community services.