Status: Closed, Former Roman Catholic
Price & Ardleigh Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19138
Original visit: June 2, 2007
Subsequent visits: June 16, 2012; June 24, 2012
Where Is It?
Price & Ardleigh Streets, in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia.
The Project ventures to East Germantown to check out yet another of our copious Immaculate Conceptions, and boy, what a trip it is.
If you looked up “enormous” in the dictionary, you might just see a picture of this church. It’s almost larger than life itself. It towers over everything else in the area, and when you stand next to it you can’t help but feel dwarfed by its awesome expanse. Inside, you're treated to a cavernous Romanesque masterpiece, culminating in a broad, expansive arched roof. Just looking at each individual brick in said roof, and imagining the labor it took to lay said bricks, is enough to inspire both awe and a splitting headache.
Even more impressive is that it does it without columns. That's right, you get the full, expansive effect! Like our friend St. Martin of Tours, the interior also features a lot of tile work, but unlike St. Martin, it eschews the green for mostly red and gold, so it doesn’t seem like a gigantic shower.
Two interesting things stand out here. First, Immaculate has the same cruciform shape we've come to know and love. But the transept isn't entirely rectangular, like we're used to seeing. Instead, each arm is home to a huge circular shrine featuring paintings of various saints. That’s unique enough, but it’s really strange to see how large the transcept really is. In most cruciform churches, the nave takes up most of a church’s length, with the transcept occupying on a small part. Here, though, the transept is longer than the nave, which makes for an unique effect.
Media Matters: In the 2000 film "Unbreakable", after the train wreck that opens the movie, Bruce Willis' character attends a memorial service for those who died. The church it's held in? Immaculate Conception.
Anyhow, this church is simply magnificent. It’s not quite as ornate as others we’ve seen, but it makes a successful gimmick out of being ridiculously gigantic.
Yeah, I know, it's not to the level of a European cathedral, but it's larger than anything in this area.
Ugh. The Closer, that's what.
Time will tell what's next for this building, but I have a hunch it'll be a wrecking ball, because no other fringe group has the resources to maintain a place this large.
And it's a shame, because this is a place that's physically fine and capable of a lot of love, a lot of life. Problem is, there's no one left in East Germantown to provide it.
Since my original visit, when 14 people showed up to mass in an upper church that seats 1,400, I've spent a lot of time hoping the parish could hold on long enough until the neighborhood started to turn around. I've fought for it and talked it up and done everything in my power to reverse its fortunes.
In the end, though, it's not enough for the bean counters. And we're all the worse for it.
The fringes of Germantown proper have improved in recent years. That love hasn't passed to neighboring East Germantown yet, so it's a neighborhood that's still pretty down on its luck.
The church predictably has its own city block, so there’s a lot of parking street parking around it.
Not a great area, but probably not one you have to worry about if you stay in sight of the church. I wouldn’t dally after the sun goes down, though.
The Outsider's Edge: Of the fourteen people that showed up for Saturday mass during our initial visit, most of them were black, so we certainly stuck out like sore thumbs. The pastor, Father John Holliday, invited us to do the dreaded “stand up and tell us where you’re from!” You’d think I’d be used to that by now, but somehow I always seem surprised when it happens.
Also, one of the ushers handed us small gift bags as we left, filled with various pamphlets, the church bulletin, and a set of rosaries. The bags are even branded with the Immaculate Conception name. Nothing says, “Please come back!” like a bag full of gifts.
The Final Word
One of the great losses of our time.