Mailbag 11

Ugh, what a week. But enough about me. How about some reader mail?

From Project reader Colleen Amuso:

I just found your site tonight, and it is great! I placed a link on my facebook page, and recommended it to my friends. I really like how you look at the architecture, and place it in the context of the neighborhood, history, and current events. A few churches for you to see: Church of the Gesu (17th and girard, near St. joes Prep), and St Matthew in the northeast (Cottman Ave). The first is supposed to be beautiful, and St. Matt's is my home parish, and is supposed to be one of the largest in the city (it supposedly has the longest aisle, and certainly is one of the largest in population, close to 2000 families and over 1500 kids in the school!) Not sure how you would view them architecturally, but they could be interesting (and St. Matt's does use it's upper church!!)

I also wanted to comment on your review of Our Mother of Consolation, my current home parish. You were a bit harsh, IMHO ;) Do you know the history if the founding of the parish? In 1855, in Chestnut Hill, there was a strong anti-Catholic sentiment. Catholics in Chestnut Hill were the working class - those who built and worked in the mansions on the west side of Germantown Ave. The gentleman who built the church (I'll have to get you his name), was a convert, a former Quaker businessman who donated the land and materials for the church. He told near neighbors that he was building a house. When rumors started that he was building a church, there were attempts and near attempts to burn it down. In large part, the size and plainness of OMC are due to the fact that the builder was moving fast, and under false pretenses. Once the church was built, there wasn't much that could be done. Also bear in mind that at the time, Chestnut Hill was its own country town. The population was not the same as urban centers. It was not part of the city, and those that had homes there used them as country homes, getaways from the city. The majority of the population used churches like St Pauls across the street, and St Martins in the Field.

However, I really do like the church, and the wood beams were part of the charm (reminded me of churches in small towns in Europe, where I have also lived). But I understand, to each his own.

Thanks for the site, and good luck!

I found her note very amuso. See what I did there? See? Ah, never mind.

I give Colleen credit; most parishioners of a panned church can't insult me fast enough. But Colleen handles it like an adult--she respects our opinion, and we agree to disagree. I appreciate, too, the history she provides about Our Mother of Consolation, which is directly related to why the building isn't very impressive. Catholic subterfuge? How ridiculous!

But seriously, though, letters like these are valuable because while the Project includes as much history as possible, we can't cover everything. That's why it's great to hear from parishioners in the know--when they're not screaming at me, that is.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn't impact the rating. While it's nice to know why churches look the way they do, our goal is to simply evaluate them as they are. The fact that OMC's builders had to pull the wool over the eyes of the neighbors doesn't obscure the fact that it's just not great church. The Project may be more sympathetic, but we have to let the bricks do the talking.

Oh, and yes, the recommendations: Gesu (for what seems like the umpteenth time): yes, forthcoming. St. Matt's? No. Not from what I've seen and heard. The "longest aisle" quip is interesting, but I don't buy it. Parishioners of St. Bartholomew, also in the Northeast, make the same claim. Sorry, but my money's on Immaculate Conception, for obvious reasons.

Of course, if anyone wants to go around and measure the aisles of all the churches we've done, feel free to do so. I await your report.