by David Fiedler
Standing in a south St. Louis cemetery is an imposing mausoleum that houses the remains of C. F. W. Walther and his wife, Emilie. Walther was the first president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and remains one of the most significant figures in American Lutheranism. The mausoleum is now 120 years old, and its story is the story of Walther and the esteem in which he was held by those he served.
In addition to serving as head pastor at Trinity, St. Louis, Walther also provided leadership and direction to three other congregations established by Trinity that remained under the supervision of the mother congregation. These parishesImmanuel, Holy Cross and Ziontogether with Trinity collectively formed the Gesamtgemeinde, a collective congregation of sorts that maintained a single identity despite being four separate worshipping bodies.
It was this group that decided in January 1889, a year and a half after Walther’s death, that a memorial should be built in honor of their beloved pastor. A building committee was appointed with members from each congregation, and soon almost $9,000 was raised for a structure that would stand more than 30 feet high.
Built of gray granite, the octagonal Gothic building features French-cut windows with inlaid stained glass depicting various biblical scenes. Standing inside is a life-size statue of Walther that portrays him presiding over a gathering of the church. On the base of the statue are the words from Rom. 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” A pillar with a Bible resting on it stands to the left of the statue, and in his hands, Walther holds both the Book of Concord and the notes he would have used when presenting a theological essay.
The dedication service was June 12, 1892, five years after Walther’s death. The Rev. Dr. Franz Pieper, who succeeded Walther as Concordia Seminary’s president, was the main speaker.
Challenges in upkeep
In the decades after its construction, the mausoleum has seen various phases of decline and restoration. Major repairs have been necessary, most recently in 1956 and 1988, due mainly to simple aging of the structure and the effects of weather and time. However, the mausoleum has been targeted by vandals on occasion, and the need for a single party to be responsible for the upkeep of the structure became obvious in the 1980s. This resulted in a three-way agreement between the LCMS, Concordia Historical Institute and the cemetery association, and the mausoleum was eventually deeded to the Synod in 1987.
Since then, the Synod has been providing ongoing cleaning, maintenance and minor repairs, but an effort is now underway to create a modest endowment of approximately $25,000 so that funding for larger restoration will be available when needed. This is being done in conjunction with members of the Walther family and in full partnership with Concordia Historical Institute, as well as other Lutherans interested in and supportive of this effort to preserve and honor the history of our church body.
In the meantime, the mausoleum stands in memory of C. F. W. Walther to ensure that he is honored, and by extension, that the history and heritage of the LCMS and its first leader are recalled and promoted for future generations.
> More details on Walther’s funeral can be found in the Walther Collection at Concordia Historical Institute (www.lutheranhistory.org).
> If you would like to consider financial support of this effort, please visit http://www.lfnd.org/walther.
> For more on Walther, go to www.lutheranhistory.org/collections/fa/m-0004.htm.
About the Author: David Fiedler is executive director of General Services at the LCMS International Center.