In 1905 Evangelical Lutheran national church leaders envisioned a new mission in Madison, Wisconsin that would use English as the primary language and service the students at the University of Wisconsin. With that, a small Bible study group founded Luther Memorial. From these humble beginnings, the congregation grew and in 1923 they dedicated their new church building, hailed as the “Cathedral of the Northwest.” A Madison landmark now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the neo-Gothic architecture reminds one of a European cathedral. The building stands tall in the heart of the University of Wisconsin campus despite the challenges it has faced over the decades including fires, threats of bankruptcy, a bombing and cultural shifts with the denomination itself.
These days, the church services the intergenerational faith community in the region of the state’s capital. Entering the nave, a stone living-water font greets worshippers into this architecturally stunning worship space. The floor plan is laid out in traditional cruciform design. With 40-foot high arched ceiling, a domed apse frames an ornate centerpiece that rises two stories above the altar with a statue of Jesus Christ looking down watching over his flock. On either side, ornamental organ pipes add to the majestic look with their 56-rank Austin pipe organ and Steere tracker organ. When trying to define the church itself, Walt Miner writes in The History of Luther Memorial Church,“In daily speech it’s often a building, but also an organization, a religious fellowship, a pattern of changing activities and goals springs over more than a hundred years.” He continues, “It is made – and continuously remade – by the One who says ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”