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Aerial photo of First Christian church by Phil Hanna

By Connie Nimmo Thorn 

Columbus, Indiana, attracts architecture aficionados across the world for its many structures built by the biggest names in the industry. However, you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate one of Columbus’ most iconic buildings.

Across from the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library and Large Arch, First Christian Church stands. Originally called the Tabernacle Church of Christ, it was the first contemporary building in Columbus and one of the first contemporary churches in the country.

The reverend of the church, J. Irwin Miller’s uncle, originally talked about building a traditional looking church for his growing congregation. Miller suggested that the church be built in a more modern style instead. The family soon met with revered Finnish architect, Eliel Saarinen. He was known for incorporating stylish art nouveau in his designs.

Saarinen was hesitant to build the church, because he had only built one before. Then, the reverend’s daughter convinced Saarinen to design the church when she stated that she wanted the church to be beautiful, but not opulent. It would become a place that would welcome all women and men.

The beautiful structure boasts a geometric, glass-fronted main hall with a 166-foot bell tower and bridge. A large stone cross accents the limestone facade. The interior design was spearheaded by Eilel’s son, Eero Saarinen.

The father-son duo designed the church to be serene and spiritual. The vast open space with floor to ceiling windows give the sense of balance and interest. The space acknowledges the imperfect nature of humanity being slightly asymmetric. The cross at the alter and middle aisle is slightly off center. However, the communion table is centered in the room.

The church was completed in 1942 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2001. The First Christian Church features art and architectural hidden gems, such as carving on a pew. Look closely, because you may just spot one of them.

You can get a guided tour of the interior of First Christian Church by taking the Columbus Architecture Highlights Bus Tour Tuesday through Sunday or the Downtown Landmarks Walking Tour.