St. Bede the Venerable
Status: Active, Roman Catholic
1071 Holland Road
Holland, PA 18966
Original visit: February 17, 2013
Where Is It?
The aptly-named Holland Road, in Holland, Pa.
Admittedly, Holland, Pa. seems a bit of a strange choice to celebrate the Project’s sixth birthday. But as you should know by now, there’s almost always a method to my considerable madness. In this case, I chose St. Bede because of its strong ties to one of our most enduring visits:
Kingsessing’s Most Blessed Sacrament.
A first-year visit — and our first taste of The Closer — MBS remains an indelible part of Philadelphia’s church history. Indeed, I’ve gotten more letters about this church than almost any other. For a parish that once housed the largest Roman Catholic grade school in the world (not a typo), I suppose that’s all too appropriate.
Where St. Bede comes in is an interesting story. Originally a makeshift mid-century edifice in the no-man’s land of Holland, St. Bede had never gotten around to building a proper church. That changed in the late 2000s, when they acquired quite a few of MBS’ relics, and went about rebuilding their church to reflect more of the classical style they always wanted.
That’s an important point, so I’ll repeat. They didn’t just strip MBS’ artifacts and reinstall them here — they literally rebuilt their entire church to house them properly.
That's right, folks: Welcome to a wholly unique version of Pimp My Church!
This, for the record, is what the church used to look like.
I know, yuck. But any experiment to re-embrace classical church architecture is a good one, and especially since it involved the legendary MBS — or parts of it, anyway — the Project felt compelled to pay a visit.
So does it work? Umm, no. It’s a noble attempt, but not a very successful one.
Admittedly, it’s good to see MBS’ sanctuary fixtures in use again, and at least a couple of their incomparable stained glass windows. But the problem is that, for as good as the sanctuary looks, the effect doesn’t carry over to the rest of the church.
They may have rebuilt the entire thing, but only the sanctuary received the bulk of the MBS touches and classical sensibilities. The rest of the church remains, mostly, a plain A-frame @%#$box with boring stained glass. Not even MBS’ stations of the cross can do much to save it.
Hence, you’re stuck with something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde church. A pretty decent, classical sanctuary that’s grafted onto modern dreck. The two don’t work well together, and the effect is more disconcerting than inspirational.
One usher told me that the general consensus from former MBSers is that it’s “eerie.” St. Bede takes that as a compliment, but they really probably shouldn’t.
I will give St. Bede credit for at least trying. Most parishes these days would be content with their post-war @%#$box of a church. Not many would have the energy and resources to do what they did, so props there.
But at the end of the day, this just feels like an experiment gone wrong. It’s a huge step forward for them, no doubt —
— but not far enough, and it only serves to remind us how much we’ve lost — and how much better these fixtures looked in their original environment.
To paraphrase a famous line, I knew MBS. And you, St. Bede, are no MBS.
How’s It Doing?
They have a five-figure registered population and an average weekly attendance near 3,000. They also managed to complete this extensive $5 million renovation.
So, yeah. Nothing to see here.
Holland is not far beyond the borders of the far Northeast, but it’s a bit of a trek nonetheless, and it’s not particularly accessible from any major arteries. The best I can say is, good luck and don’t get lost on the twisting country roads. And in case you’re worried about parking, their sprawling campus has plenty of places to dump your vehicle while you get your worship on.
Quite a few, actually:
- The inscription above the sanctuary reads Hic domus dei est et porta coeli, or “This is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven.” Sound familiar? It should. Similar inscriptions can be found at both Our Lady of Hope and Our Lady of the Holy Souls.
- The inward-facing angels that flank that altar were actually facing forward at MBS. The same usher mentioned that they were always designed to face inward, but MBS didn’t have the space to display them properly. I’m not sure I’m inclined to give MBS so little credit, but it’s an interesting design difference nonetheless.
- Also, look for two sections of MBS’ altar rail — one each in front of the side altars. St. Bede apparently tried to bring over more of it, but since the marble wasn’t designed to travel, it crumbled in transit. :frowny face:
The Final Word
A worthy but flawed experiment.