The Mystery of Madonna della Strada

March 02, 2016

Loyola University Campus, Chicago, Illinois

The Madonna della Strada Chapel at the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola University was designed by architect Andrew Rebori and opened in 1938. Miller,  a close friend of Rebori, submitted designs for many art installations, including the large rose windows facing Lake Michigan at the front of the building. 


Front facade of Madonna della Strada Chapel (Photo: Loyola University)

The rose windows are a point of confusion because Miller and another craftsman-artist Karl Hackert both submitted designs for them, and while there is no evidence that Hackert's design was chosen, recent research done by a Loyola student, Guy Valponi, shows it was likely that Hackert was chosen as the final executor of the windows. Father Mertz, the priest in charge of the project, expressed that Hackert’s work was a lot cheaper and higher quality, although there are also reasons to believe that Mertz’s strong personality and Edgar’s devotion to art over practical costs created a rift between the two. 



Still, the rose window design looks very similar to Miller’s sketches for the project, and exhibit his distinct design patterns, such as the use of clovers and a primitive aesthetic. It is possible that they used Miller’s designs but commissioned Hackert to execute them, due to his ability to work at a cheaper rate. Unfortunately, the lack of records means the answer will remain a mystery.

Sketch of proposed rose windows by Miller (Photo by Alexander Vertikoff; Image courtesy Aldinger Collection)


On the front facade of the building are four relief sculptures, depicting the Four Evangelists. They aren't officially credited as Edgar Miller’s work, however their style points to Miller being behind their creation.  

Vintage images of the bas relief sculptures before they were attached to the front facade of the chapel:


It is unclear what Edgar specifically created inside the chapel, though much of the work inside is in his style. Miller submitted a proposal for the Stations of the Cross to be done as an elaborate mosaic, which would have wrapped completely around the chapel nave. The proposal was dismissed because of the limited, Depression-era budget, and another artist was chosen to paint the Stations.  Valponi remarks that the evidence points to Hackert as the executor for the North American Martyrs Shrine.

Images of the crypt mosaics and the Madonna Shrine:


Photo: Larry Zgoda

Ceiling and wall mosaics, stained glass windows, and cast bronze plaques in the Madonna Shrine show resemblance to Miller's style

Angel plaques which bear a strong similarity to the Madonna and Child sculpture credited to Miller (see below)


Woodcarvings in the rectory also exhibit Miller’s  style and design sensibilities.  In the bell tower  a bronze sculpture of a similar Madonna and Child is stored. This sculpture, more than any other, seems clearly the work of Miller’s and is reported to have offended Father Mertz for overly resembling the statuary of Eastern religions. It was meant to sit at the alter of the chapel, but because it didn’t align with Mertz’s tastes, was relegated for many years to a spot on a wall outside the building.


Carving of Madonna and Child in the chapel rectory

Madonna and Child credited to Miller, now in storage