It was a lovely Sunday morning; today we decided to get down to Most Holy Redeemer in Southwest Detroit and take some pictures of this magnificent church. When we arrived mass was still in progress, we’d have to come back; no problem, there is always something to do on West Vernor. Luna’s Bakery rests in the shadows of the Most Holy Redeemer complex, we knew if we wanted to shop at the bakery it would be best to stop in before mass let out. We stepped inside to the delightful aroma of freshly baked sweet bread or conchas as they are called in Mexico. Glass showcases line the right wall and continue across the narrow back. Like most of the bakeries in the area it is self-serve; grab yourself a tray and a pair of tongs and go crazy. We peered into each case as we walked across the back, how does one decide? Cookies come in bright pink and yellow, some are sugar-coated while others are studded with nuts, jam or chocolate chips. We picked a few different ones then arrived at the cake section; Luna’s makes an awesome Carrot Cake, had to buy a slice of that. Conchas are a must; topped with pink, yellow or cream-colored sugar, these sweet rolls are wonderful with a cup of coffee in the morning, or in the evening, heck, they’re good anytime! We grabbed a few of those too; on the urging of the owner we tried another pastry with a pumpkin filling, delicious. With enough baked goods for a large family we were off to see the church.
Before we take you inside, I’d like to tell you a few things about this place. Situated on the corner of Junction and West Vernor, it has graced this community since 1921. The building is huge! A red brick basilica style church, it is adorned with intricately carved stone, beautiful mosaics, striking wood entry doors, murals and a Pewabic tile floor that, according to Pewabic’s records, cost $12,560.65 when it was installed. This church was important to the community, it served the neighborhood in many ways; it even had its own schools. At one time Most Holy Redeemer was the largest Catholic parish in North America; it is said that it once was the largest English-speaking parish in the world. On Sunday the church offered 15 masses to accommodate all who worshiped there and on Tuesdays when the Devotions to our Mother of Perpetual Help were held, special streetcars were added to the city line to get folks to and from MHR. I have read several different articles on the church and while numbers vary a little bit the general consensus puts attendance at 9,000 for Sunday masses and 18,000 who participated in the devotions, WOW! The church has also been featured in the spotlight; it served as a major fixture in the movie “The Rosery Murders” starring Donald Sutherland. More recently, MHR made a cameo appearance in the White Stripes video “Hotel Yorba”, how cool! Ok, now we can go inside.
We enter the church as the last of the worshipers straggle toward the exit; beauty is everywhere. The priest stands in the main aisle way talking to a parishioner, he smiles at me and waves, I wave back and nod my head to thank him for the opportunity to wander through. Kris cannot decide where to start taking pictures; the obvious draw is the altar. Marble steps lead you upward,the back wall is amazingly tall, at the top a half dome where Jesus is looking out over us; right above the altar is a smaller half dome painted with a mural. The windows behind the altar are most unusual in color; pinks, purples, indigo and blue are quite pleasing to the eye, I read somewhere that these are the work of a Detroit artist by the name of A.K. Herbert. There are many spectacular stained glass windows throughout the building done by different artists, but I found these particularly attractive. On each adjacent wall you will find side altars; each mimics the same half dome, one is covered in gold leaf and pays tribute to Mary, while the other side features enchanting Angels. Whether you are standing in the front of the church or the back the nave is quite impressive; the stunning coffered ceiling rises three stories, lantern style lights hang from delicate chains, stone archways line each side, every inch of space is decorated. We walk around with our head tipping upwards, hoping not to trip. We go out through a side door, the exterior is lavished in artistic details; light fixtures and windows are ornate. A portico runs parallel to Junction; more stone columns and a brick walkway, I feel as if I am somewhere else. The atmosphere both inside and out is serene. A stone bell tower was built years after the church, in remembrance to parishioners lost in the war. It reaches way up toward the sky; I stare at it until I can no longer take the glare of the sun in my eyes, Kris keeps moving further back to try to capture the full image. We take one last look inside before we leave. On the steps outside church-goers are saying their goodbyes, the bicycle vendors have run out of customers for now and move on, children in Sunday clothes run around on the sidewalk as their parents try to corral them. It’s wonderful to see the continuation of the land standing ritual of Sunday Mass.
For us lunchtime had arrived; we drove deeper into Southwest on Vernor until we reached El Rancho Mexican Restaurant. There are so many places to eat in this district, we try to alternate between our favorites and places we’ve never been. Located on a corner, the building resembles a large home; the front is brick with wrought iron embellishments, the side a lovely painted mural of Mexico. We went inside to the dining room; golden-yellow walls and brown vinyl booths give the space a warm feeling. We were greeted immediately; with a quick look at the menu we placed our order. We always go with some sort of combination when trying a new place, that way we can find out what we like best. Our chips and salsa arrived super fast, and before long our food. We had a botana, and a combo plate of a hard shell taco, tostada, enchilada, flauta and of course rice and beans. While not a flavorful as some of our favorites, still a good meal for a good price.
I needed to pick up a few things for home, so we walked across the street from the restaurant to E&L Supermercado. Whether you need something or not, a trip to the mercado is always fun. Near the entry wooden crates are filled with summer favorites; whole watermelons, corn on the cob and cantaloupe. Inside, the store is bustling with shoppers; carts are filled with traditional Mexican foods. We roam from aisle to aisle admiring all the colorful packaging. The fresh meat counter offers a large selection of fillings for tacos, enchiladas and burritos. The dairy department is a paradise for a cheese lover like me, so many new things to try. In addition to the standard items, the produce department has piles of tomatillos, poblanos and jalapenos; not to mention things like coconuts, yuca, yame and yuatia. I was looking for simple flour tortillas; I had about 15 to choose from! The store is bright and airy; the ceiling painted light blue to mimic the sky, mock palm trees and cheerful looking pinatas decorate the market. We reached the last aisle; I had gotten everything on my list, and then some!