In Chicago’s Mexican American communities, murals and mosaics are commonplace, many featuring spiritual figures, biblical stories and the Day of the Dead.
But one place stands out. Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, 1852 W. 22nd Pl., showcases a number of religious-themed mosaics that were created in the early 2000s.
One, at Cermak Road and Wolcott Avenue, depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe at the top along with images of students and symbols of the school’s mission.
An alternate name for Jesus’ mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to indigenous Mexican Saint Juan Diego in 1531. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe can be seen around Pilsen and Little Village in doorways and storefronts and other places.
Chicago artists Cynthia Weiss and Juan Angel Chavez designed the mosaic at Cristo Rey, choosing Our Lady of Guadalupe because she is “so important in the cultural life of Mexican families,” Weiss says.
Chavez worked with Chicago artist Jeff Zimmermann on several mosaics on the West 22nd Place side of the school, too. He says the works represent the traditions of the Jesuit religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Zimmermann also did a giant mural at Cullerton Street and Ashland Avenue portraying the Rev. Charles Dahm from nearby St. Pius V Church, 1901 S. Ashland Ave., baptizing an infant.
Another vibrant Our Lady of Guadalupe mural — begun by Miguel A. Del Real in 2017 but still in progress — spans the side of a building at Cullerton and Wood streets near Pilsen.
“It’s definitely a mural that’s more for the community in terms of the majority of what the community kind of believes in,” Del Real says.
At Carpenter and Cullerton streets, New Jersey artist Layqa Nuna Yawar completed a mural in 2015 using the trope of the Pietà, a Christian art subject of Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion. Yawar says the image speaks of “secular sacrifice and martyrdom.”
Though others might interpret it differently, Yawar says: “To me, it’s not the Virgin Mary, and it’s not Jesus. To me, they’re just space holders for people.”
At Little Village’s Amor De Dios United Methodist Church, 2356 S. Sawyer Ave., mosaics done by the Green Star Movement — a nonprofit art program for students and community members — hug the sides of the building.
Pastor Ramiro Rodriguez says the mosaics at Amor De Dios, created by students from nearby Farragut Career Academy High School, represent the church’s missions, including one, completed in 2016, that portrays food for those in need.
The other, done in 2019, is of a community garden that church members maintain, according to Kamelia Hristeva, founder and chief executive officer of the Green Star Movement.
Adam and Eve can be seen embracing with fruit and a serpent on a wall at 16th Street and Ashland Avenue in a mural done in 2018 by the New York artists who go by the names Menace and Resa.
To commemorate the Day of the Dead, a skull woman stands tall on the side of 2407 S. Kedzie Ave. Chicago artist Claü painted the mural in 2019 as a part of the Little Village arts festival Villarte, placing stars in the woman’s hair to represent femininity and self-love.
Claü says the woman is a guide for dead children — in particular those killed by guns — who “walk along the path” to visit their living families during the first day of the traditionally two-day long autumn celebration. The woman holds a blue flame to represent the soul of a child.
“I think of kids — they run off the path, or they get distracted, or they’re unsure,” Claü says. “So she walks along the path. They get there. They can cross and visit their families here.”