St. Hedwig’s was Milwaukee’s second Polish parish, founded in 1871 by about forty families from Poland’s Baltic Sea coast. The church has a prominent square tower in the center of the facade, and its copper-clad helmet dome supporting the slender polygonal spire resembles the dome-topped towers common in Poland at the time of St. Hedwig’s construction. The church’s spire became its Polish neighborhood’s chief landmark. Inside, the coved plaster ceiling is typical of many Polish American churches of the late nineteenth century. Although the vault is original, the nave’s decoration has been dramatically simplified. Until the late 1950s, the walls, particularly in the apse and at the front of the nave, were painted with angels, floral and tree-branch patterns, and other motifs. After 1965, the Milwaukee Roman Catholic Diocese adhered to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s admonition to “commemorate saints who are truly of universal importance” and limit excessive artistic decoration. The diocese interpreted these liturgical reforms by encouraging St. Hedwig’s to paint over the elaborate wall decorations and leave only statues of Joseph and Mary in tall, shallow niches at the front of the nave.
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St. Hedwig Roman Catholic Church
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