Magnificent Churches on the Prairie

"Magnificent Churches on the Prairie." North Dakota REC/RTC, April 1997, 18-19.

At the turn of the century, when North Dakota was being settled, dedicated homesteaders and Benedictine missionaries erected awe inspiring churches reminiscent of the elaborate churches and cathedrals in their former homelands in Europe. Today, these churches – built of brick, stone, and stained glass – stand as testimony to the faith and perseverance of these pioneer Christian builders.

A new book celebrates this historic church-building period in our state’s history, and the exquisite structures that resulted. “Magnificent Churches on the Prairie” features the history, architectural characteristics and more than 100 color photographs of five of these churches – located at Mandan, Devils Lake, Richardton and Strasburg, N.D., and at Hoven, S.D.

A true collector’s piece for lovers of North Dakota history and architecture, the book grew out of a series of lectures for the North Dakota Council on the Humanities. It is co-authored by James Coomber, professor and chair of the English department at Concordia College, and Sheldon Green, an accomplished photographer and former editor of North Dakota Horizons who now works in the Concordia communications office.

The soft cover, 112-page book includes such historical figures as Father Vincent Wehrle, who built Assumption Abbey in Richardton and later became bishop of the Bismarck Diocese, and the churches’ designer, Milwaukee architect Anton Dohmen. The book also discusses the topic of historical preservation and the role of these churches in today’s society.

To order your copy of “Magnificent Churches on the Prairies,” send a check or money order for $32.95 ($29.95 plus $3 postage), along with your name and address, to: Magnificent Churches Book, Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, P.O. Box 5075, Fargo, N.D. 58105-5075; telephone (701) 231-8338.

An arch beside a walkway frames the twin towers of St. Mary’s Church, a Bavarian-Romanesque-style church completed in 1909. The church is part of Assumption Abbey in Richardton, home to a community of Benedictine monks and a popular retreat center.
Arches in the Romanesque-style Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Strasburg, lead the eye heavenward, where paintings of biblical scenes deck the vaulted ceiling. The church, its historical décor still intact, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The hand-carved pulpit of Sts. Peter and Paul Church features statuary depicting Christ and the four gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the background, right, stands one of the church’s ornately carved altars, bedecked with statuary and intricate painting.

Reprinted with permission of N.D. REC/RTC Magazine.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller