Status: Active, Roman Catholic
10th & Dickinson Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Original visit: March 14, 2009
Where Is It?
South Philly, yo! 10th & Dickinson in Passyunk Square, if you want specifics
As the winter chill begins to thaw, what better way to celebrate the return of spring than to venture to the Project’s favorite stomping grounds, South Philadelphia. (Yes, sarcasm.)
But we haven’t been here since our November trip to Queen Village’s St. Philip Neri. And Queen Village isn’t always considered South Philly proper, so really, the last undisputed trip down here was August’s voyage to Pennsport’s Sacred Heart of Jesus. Two times in seven months? Yeah, I can do that.
This time, we get Passyunk Square’s Annunciation BVM. Annunciation most closely resembles Bella Vista’s St. Paul, from the red-brick exterior to the non-cruciform, non-columned Gothic design to the large Gothic arch that frames the altar.
Annunciation, for its part, features bigger size and scope than St. Paul, and far superior nave windows — large pictorial ones that are really this church’s defining (and best) asset.
I say that because it kind of goes downhill from there. I get the strong sense that Annunciation is a Tabula Rasa church, as there are traces of renovation all over the place — the weirdly modern sanctuary décor, the plain white-painted ceiling, a handicap side entrance, and a really bizarre plaster frame in the choir loft.
Indeed, that wasn't always the case. Project reader Tom Madorna provided us with the following picture, circa 1937:
A real marble altar (and side altars), as well as additional paint and mural work in and around the sancturary. Changes to the ceiling are most likely the work of damage, which is eminently forgiveable. But everything else? Tom claims that the altar was "cut down" around 1968. If that's the case, it (and, I suspect, everything else) may have been a shortsighted attempt to embrace the changes in the liturgy implemented after Vatican II.
It’s unfortunately not much better outside, either, where the central spire was damaged and removed (à la St. Boniface) around 1933. Witness this lovely 1871 image, also courtesy Mr. Madorna:
Without it, the church looks more squat than it should. Also, the facade was painted a solid red, allegedly to preserve the deteriorating bricks from further damage. It does gives the church a uniquely smooth finish, but it gets splotchy in places and clashes with the normal brick walls behind it.
It’s a shame, since, structurally, the pieces are all here, but they've been laid low by some curious alterations.
Upper v. Lower Church: Annunciation does earn major props for using their upper church the way it should be used: i.e., for everything, using the lower church only when necessary. Sort of like a reverse Nativity BVM. It’s just a shame said upper church isn’t more impressive.
Like with all Tabula Rasa churches, I would have liked to see Annunciation in its prime. It’s not bad now, but unfortunately nowhere near the upper echelon.
How's It Doing?
Fairly well. Both the registered population and average attendance have increased significantly in the past five years, no doubt helped by East Passyunk's renaissance as one of the hippest places in town.
The myriad design changes suggest that the building hasn’t exactly stood the test of time, but it’s still structurally sound.
Come on, now. You already know what I’m going to say, so let’s just save ourselves the trouble, ok?
As for safety, the area is fine. The aforementioned improvements have certainly helped, although the neighborhood wasn’t exactly suffering before.
Annunciation features some fantastic worship music, thanks to Jenn Z., the cantor / keyboardist at the 5:15 vigil mass. Great voice, great sound. Reminds me somewhat of the classy program at St. John the Evangelist, minus the over-the-top theatrics. We've seen few better.
The church may be architecturally questionable, but at least it sounds good. It’s almost worth visiting just for that. If you do, tell her the Project sent you.
The Final Word
A couple of nice touches — including a commendable love of upper churches — but overall nothing special