St. Clement

Status: Active, Episcopal

Founded: 1855
Construction: 1858

20th & Appletree Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Visit its website

Original visit: April 13, 2008

Where Is It?

20th & Appletree Streets, in Logan Square.

The Skinny

The Project goes downtown yet again! This time we visit the Episcopalian parish of St. Clement, which for 150 years has ministered to Center City. And, I suspect, to museum goers who wander in lost from the Parkway.

St. Clement’s design is indicative of many protestant churches, in that it has a striking case of How the $#%@ do I get in here?The church is at 20th & Appletree; in a Catholic setup, the façade would face outward to 20th street. Instead, Clement is done almost in reverse. The rear of the church faces outward, with the apse taking the central position and a spire positioned awkwardly next to it.

In case you’re wondering where the façade actually is, don’t. There isn’t one. What would be the façade butts up against another building, so the main entrance is actually placed diagonally near the start of the nave. Once you go in you have to make two right turns to enter the church.

Funky setup aside, Clement is a decent if unspectacular entry. The church has some nice things going for it. The reddish / brown stone construction is cool, and the sanctuary and altars are pretty ornate. Mostly, though, the interior is done in a bland white plaster with (ack!) wooden beams.

What’s interesting is that the apse isn’t done in plaster, but instead just stays with the reddish / brown stone. I actually like that look better. It’s very medieval, if you will, and the design could have been stunning if the church kept it throughout. Plaster is just really difficult to pull off unless it’s heavily ornamented.

Still, it’s worth seeing. There are some neat touches, and there’s a lot of history here. Just don’t expect to be blown away architecturally.

How's It Doing?

If the attendance at the 11:00 a.m. High Mass is any indication, not very well. The church had a spartan crowd, and most of the seats were empty. Of course, while 11:00 a.m. is usually the “sweet spot” of mass attendance, it is High Mass, which in the Project’s opinion is an acquired taste.

Oh, it’s beautifully done, no doubt. Judging by the attendance, though, it seems a lot of parishioners don't see the need for it on a weekly basis.

That said, I get the hunch this is still a pretty healthy parish. St. Clement boasts an active social agenda and volunteer core, and the continued improvements in their surrounding neighborhood will only help them.

Travel Tidbits

Logan Square is still firmly in Center City, so unless you can walk or take public transportation, you’re in for some suffering. The church advertises that they allow parking in the Horticultural Association lot across the street. I, however, found no such spaces, so be prepared to circle, search and beg for mercy.

(For the Project, the travel is often as much a religious experience as the actual mass.)

Oh, but the area itself is fantastic, as you’d expect from the museum district.

Important note for photographers: if you’re looking to take pictures, do not do it after High Mass. They use a lot of incense, which hangs in the air and screws with your images. Half of mine didn’t come out, and the ones that did look pretty funky. Attend a different service or just take a tour.

Interesting Note

St. Clement doesn’t have kneelers! Instead, there are pads hanging on the back of the pews, which you can take off and use for your kneeling purposes. Or, if you’re truly penitent, you can kneel on the wooden floor without them.

I myself didn’t use them, because the Project always has a lot of atoning to do.

Image Gallery

The Final Word