Status: Active, Roman Catholic
243 N. Lawrence Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Original visit: January 27, 2008
Subsequent visits: December 20, 2012
Where Is It?
4th & Vine Streets, in ye Old(e) City.
St. Augustine is one of the oldest parishes in Philadelphia, with its 1796 founding date far outdistancing most everything else in the area. It’s so old that it sometimes gets the title “Old St. Augustine,” putting it in a select class of churches that includes Old St. Joseph’s, Old St. Mary’s, and Old St. Michael’s.
Old vs. Older Churches: Augustine, rebuilt in 1848, squeaks by into the “older” category, and there are traces of that all over its construction, from the generally unassuming brick exterior to the smaller size.
However, Augustine belies the trend by actually being pretty ornate. It's an Italian-Renaissance variant, so we get a non-cruciform building with a flat, decorated roof and circular window arches. Like St. Michael, it also has an enormous cleaving balcony and two sets of stained glass windows. Unfortunately most of them are of the pattern style, rather than the pictorial style.
Still, there's more to like than dislike. Augustine features marvelous mural work, particularly on the roof and on the top sides, and solid marble work in and around the sanctuary. There’s also an impressive foyer that’s notable on two fonts — first, unlike most churches, it’s treated like a part of the interior, so it’s just as ornate as other parts. And second, it’s lower than the church. The foyer is on one level, but you need to take another set of stairs to go up into the church. You see this rarely, most notably in St. Laurentius and St. Helena.
Media Matters: In "The Sixth Sense," St. Augustine is the church where Bruce Willis' and Haley Joel Osment's characters meet for the first time.
It’s not the biggest or most ornate, but it’s still a very lovely building — particularly if you like more of a colonial-esque tone to your church construction.
How's It Doing?
Going by the numbers, meh. The registered population and average attendance are both pretty low.
For as good an area as this is, and for as much history as this parish has, it's not enough. The Archdiocese has shown time and again that they couldn't care less about either of those factors. If I were you, Augustine, I'd try really hard to get those numbers up.
For those brave enough to drive into Center City, be prepared for a slightly annoying set of one-way streets. It’s not as bad as others we’ve seen, but be prepared. Once you get there things are fine, though, as St. Augustine is good enough to have a parking lot! Amen!
Old City is also fairly convenient to the Market Street El, should you choose transit.
As for safety, Old City is pretty nice, so you shouldn’t have much to worry about.
The pews and kneelers are ridiculously small. I know religion and evolution don’t usually mix, but it lends credence to the evolutionary idea that people in the past were much smaller.
The Final Word
St. Augustine is well worth a trip. Recommended.