Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches
A sampling of a longer scenic byway, the Land of the Cross-tipped Churches tour introduces travelers to the unique landscape and settlement history of west-central Ohio. Scattered across a relatively small region are Catholic churches whose magnificent spires tower above a relatively level agricultural landscape. These landmarks were created by the region’s early European settlers who traveled from northern Germany via the Ohio River, Lake Erie, and the Miami-Erie Canal. Merchants, farmers, and skilled craftsmen brought their values of hard work, family connection, and faith.
The German influence on this region can be seen in the names of towns and streets, the architectural style of farm buildings – and most poignantly, on tombstones in cemeteries adjacent to the Roman Catholic Churches established to serve these communities. As the Miami-Erie Canal extended north to connect the Ohio River to Lake Erie and the Great Black Swamp was tamed, the fertile land was surveyed towns were established to serve the region’s farms. Notable in this region were settlements of manumitted African Americans who held sizable tracts of land.
In 1842, Father Francis de Sales Brunner, founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, was granted permission to establish parishes serving the residents of Auglaize, Mercer, and Shelby Counties. With seven priests and seven religious brothers, he arrived in 1844; later that same year, the missionaries were joined by the Sisters of the Precious Blood. These faithful men and women established churches, convents, and schools, many of which are active today. The first churches were constructed of logs or sawn timber; very little evidence of those earliest buildings remain. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, many parishes began erecting churches in the Gothic Revival style employing a cruciform design, exterior walls of brick and stone carving, high barrel ceilings, and arched windows. Many are decorated with elaborately carved alter pieces, sculptures of religious figures, and stained glass windows imported from Germany, France, and Italy. Now part of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, these early parishes are home to active congregations who are devoted to their faith, and to preserving the heritage represented by the church buildings.
This short tour through a portion of the Land of Cross-Tipped Churches offers visitors opportunities to find peace and tranquility in the rural landscape.
Notes for Travelers: You will pass many churches not highlighted in the narration of this driving tour, yet each one is worth a visit – don’t hesitate to stop the audio tour and take a short detour whenever you see a church spire down a side road. When I last visited the region, I found all the churches open during daylight hours, although many were the site of weddings on Saturdays. A guide for the entire scenic byway can be found at SeeMore.org. To worship with these congregations, search for the websites of the individual churches.
Begin each track at the location indicated. Important sites from the tour are marked on the map and under each track heading. Sites that are highlighted in blue link to additional information.
Track 2Interstate 75 and State Route 29 GPS: 40.369861, -84.160347
Track 3In Minster on Highway 66 North GPS: 40.394236, -84.376791
- Saint Augustine Catholic Church
- Lock One Park
Track 4In New Bremen on Route 274 GPS: 40.436851, -84.379667
Track 5Carthagena on Route 127 GPS: 40.432918, -84.563738
Track 6In Saint Henry at Routes 199 and 219
Track 7On Route 119 in Saint Henry GPS: 40.417763, -84.637149
Track 8To Maria Stein, at Routes 119 and 127 GPS: 40.407568, -84.572345
Stream Audio here
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