Church of the Holy Trinity

Status: Active, Episcopal

Construction: 1859

1904 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Visit its website

Original visit: October 12, 2008

Where Is It?

19th & Walnut Streets, across from Rittenhouse Square in…yep, Rittenhouse Square.

The Skinny

The Project takes the long, hard, crowded road back downtown! But not just any part of Center City — none other than snooty Rittenhouse Square, the city’s largest home of high-class, high-falutin’ hijinks. It's here we find the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity.

Protestant churches are an odd bunch. They’re usually structurally impressive (if wackily designed), but ornamentally deficient. Church of the Holy Trinity is no exception to the rule, but it still does some very good things in its own right.

First, the good. Holy Trinity boasts a wonderful reddish-stone exterior, highlighted by a prominent spire and rose window, not to mention some lovely interlocking pilasters and ornate Corinthian order-influenced doorway arches.

Oh, and the best part? The facade is prominent and designed to be used as the entry, so there’s no dealing with the pesky How the $#%@ do I get in here? (Someone’s been reading the Roman Catholic playbook!)

The large interior is highlighted by a pretty nicely decorated sanctuary and apse, and features a variety of gold and red hues, solid woodwork and some decent murals. There are also two sets of stained glass windows, above and below the cleaving side balconies, and both sets are mostly pretty nice.

So...where’s the bad? True to Protestant form, Holy Trinity errs on the side of caution and understatement. Thus, the décor isn’t crammed to the gills with stuff, like, say, a St. Joseph. They do earn props for actually trying; they at least make the attempt to decorate the ceiling, and they severely minimize the dreaded “white plaster / wooden beam” conundrum.

Also, true to Protestant form (or, at least the Protestant buildings we've seen), the stained-glass windows are terribly incohesive. There are several competing styles, including some plainer pictorial ones, and none are arranged in any sort of logical fashion. 

Architectural aside of the week: Holy Trinity is designed in the Norman architectural style, a Romanesque variation. To that end, we get round and ornately carved arches galore. It does, however, eschew the pure size that accompanies most Romanesque churches. (Think Immaculate Conception or Our Lady of Hope.)

Pretty good as Protestant churches go. I like the size, and the ornamentation does enough.

How's It Doing?

Very well. This is a fairly sizeable and passionate group, with a ton of extracurricular activities (including jazz concerts!) and religious education programs. I doubt any Episcopal church will ever qualify as a Fat Girl Parish, but once again, I was warmly greeted by several members, including the Rector.

Most churches wouldn’t be able to immediately recognize new faces — and, sadly, even fewer even care to.

Travel Tidbits

Mark this date down, dear readers! For the first time, the Project relied on public transportation. You can’t blame me, really. The thought of driving and parking in Rittenhouse Square gives me a tremendous headache. You can certainly try that if you like; I did so when we went to neighboring St. Patrick. But do it at your own risk.

SEPTA, meanwhile, offers a very reasonable option via the Walnut-Locust station on the Broad Street Line. You could also take a train to Suburban Station, if you don’t mind paying an extra 8 or 9 dollars. Either option requires a little walking, but it’s rather pleasant on a nice day, and altogether preferable to cursing and banging your head against your steering wheel.

As for safety...come on.

Interesting Note

A new gift bag! Holy Trinity, it seems, proudly makes up a batch of said bags before every mass, in the hope that they’ll get to give them to visitors. I say “hope,” because they’ll literally feel deprived otherwise. How do I know this? They actually say so, as a way to encourage shy visitors to raise their hands.

Wow, indeed.

The bag is pretty good: we got a couple of pamphlets, a note pad and some candy. We even got some sugar cookies emblazoned with the church’s logo. That is something I can honestly say I have never, ever seen.

No doubt it’ll be a delicious lesson in devotion.

Image Gallery

The Final Word

Worth the trip.