Status: Active, Roman Catholic
5600 Jackson Street
Philadelphia, PA 19124
Original visit: May 16, 2010
Where Is It?
5600 Jackson Street in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia.
The Project returns to the great (or not-so-great, depending on your point of view) Northeast to tackle Wissinoming's St. Bartholomew. I've heard a lot of chatter about St. Bart's. The largest church in Archdiocese, they say. The longest aisle in the Archdiocese, they say. Blah, blah blah.
Like a lot of things I hear out of the mouth of John Q. Churchgoer, it's mostly hype. St. Bart's is a nice size, but nowhere near as big as, say, Immaculate Conception, or the Basilica, or even their neighbor St. Martin of Tours. If anyone tries to tell you differently, kick them in the shins for us.
So what does St. Bart's bring to the table? Well, it may not be the biggest, but it's still a very large tweener that has the distinction of being the first Italian-Renaissance variation we've seen.
By that, I mean that most tweener churches tend to be vaguely Romanesque in character. Very large, lots of stone, not necessarily dripping with ornamentation. Perfect for keeping costs down in that nebulous 1950s buffer zone.
Not here, though. St. Bart's is a tweener by way of Italian-Renaissance design. You can see it for yourself in the design, from the pediment-topped exterior face and pediment-shaped window and side-altar frames. Not to mention a surprisingly impressive red, white and gold baldachin. Add in some large and not-ugly profile stained glass windows, excellent woodwork and the aforementioned excellent size and scope, and you have a church that exceeds far more than it has any right to.
That's not to say it's perfect, of course. The plaster is largely unadorned, especially in the large transepts, so there's definitely a very spartan vibe. And the organ, if they have one, is unseen.
But for a church that dates to 1955, this is far nicer than any of its contemporaries. And as the latest tweener, date-wise, it's safe to say St. Bartholomew was the last respectable church built within the city of Philadelphia.
Not bad for a forgotten parish in the middle of a dying neighborhood, no?
Look for it: The nave windows are perfectly rectangular. We've seen gothic pointed windows and circular windows, but rarely a complete set of rectangular windows.
How's It Doing?
Wissinoming, like most of the lower Northeast, is lightly regarded these days, but St. Bartholomew is holding its own reasonably well. The 3,800+ registered population and 600+ attendance are decent if unspectacular, and the church itself is in pretty pristine shape.
The bad? Said attendance has been dropping pretty steadily for most of the past 10 years. The parish school also closed. And while the church is in good shape, the large parish campus is scruffy and overgrown, not helped by the closed school and an abandoned-looking convent.
Still, things are ok for now. The church's fate, though, is irrevocably tied to the neighborhood. And if the lower Northeast continues to struggle — and I think it will, for a while at least — then St. Bart's is on very thin ice.
At 5600 Jackson Street, the church is very close to the Bridge Street exit off I-95. That highway may have its faults, but it's always treated the Project well, so we won't complain too much about it. Things get more confusing when you get onto the neighborhood streets, although it's nothing too serious.
The area, as noted above, isn't too well-regarded these days. Despite its problems, though, it doesn't look to be too dangerous of an area, especially around the church itself. The Project parked on the street with no issues whatsoever, although there is a lot if you'd rather not risk it.
A little rundown, but we've seen far worse. Stick to the church and you needn't worry.
St. Bartholomew is one of the few churches to offer a Sunday evening mass. It's a great offering, especially if you're looking to attract a younger crowd. (And churches should. They really should.) Young people usually enjoy sleeping in, or going to brunch on Sunday morning.
But by offering a later option, you have a greater chance of reaching those people. Look, this generation's youth shouldn't have to choose between omelettes or mass. Omelettes will win nine times out of 10.
Oh, and the guitar / keyboard / vocal musical trio is pretty sweet, too.
The Final Word
A parish that the sands of time and progress are threatening into obscurity, but one that's well worth a visit.