Status: Active, Roman Catholic
Belgrade Street & Allegheny Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19134
Original visit: March 23, 2008
Where Is It?
Belgrade Street and Allegheny Avenue, or thereabouts.
Upper v. Lower Church: I’ve never been kind to lower churches, and I’ve been even less kind to parishes that use them for everything. I’ve given Nativity several potshots for being one of those parishes. They are so staunchly lower church that you can count on one hand the number of times a year they hold an upper church mass.
Fortunately, Easter Sunday is one of them. And let me tell you — the upper church is definitely worth the wait.
It's a richly-decorated pink and white masterpiece, with gorgeous stained glass and some very nice mural work. Indeed, I was so fooled by the somewhat unassuming exterior that I had no idea the interior would be this nice; certainly, the St. Athanasius Effect at work.
Special mention needs to go the sanctuary, which is truly stellar. It differs in that the central portion is shaped like a trapezoid, so the altar is framed by two outward-slanting walls, and the two side altars are set farther back. It’s really neat, dramatic effect, and one that sets Nativity apart from the other Baroque masterpieces we’ve seen, like St. Peter the Apostle and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Did You Know? This church was built entirely by the men of the parish. Yep, no outside help here. Now that’s dedication! (Oh, and they were pretty talented, too.)
How's It Doing
Here's where things get rough. Nativity's attendance has dropped like a rock in the past couple of years, and is now only in the 300s. Furthermore, they only use the upper church a handful of times a year, citing heating costs as the reason why everything is held in the lower church.
Perhaps most troubling, the parish has been twinned with neighboring Our Lady Help of Christians. That's right, it's a Dead Parish Walking. Nativity is the healthier of the two, so it will most likely outlast OLHC.
Regardless, though, this is a parish with a very ominous-looking future.
Church Alley. Couldn’t be better.
A parishioner told me an interesting story about a recent summer wedding: the bride paid to have the upper church air-conditioned. That’s right, she arranged for generators to be placed outside and piped into the building...at a cost of only $16,000.
I’m sorry, but no amount of AC comfort is worth $16,000.
The Final Word
A Nativity upper church mass is almost impossible to get, but make every attempt to do so. It’s well worth it.