St. John the Evangelist

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

Also Known As: St. John's

Founded: 1830

21 S. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 191107

Visit its website

Original visit: June 23, 2007
Additional visits: November 30, 2008

Where Is It?

Right off of Market Street & 13th street, nestled cozily between the Center City skyscrapers.

The Skinny

Welcome to St. John the Evangelist, a church that stands toe-to-toe with the Philly skyline, offering salvation on a grand stage.

Ok, I might be exaggerating somewhat. When I say “stands toe-to-toe,” I really mean, “gets dwarfed by.” St. John the Evangelist is literally hemmed in on all sides by tall buildings. When the parish was founded in 1830, Center City was no doubt a quaint, picaresque little environment. Of course, we’ve had a little building spree since then, and the church finds itself hemmed in on all sides, stoutly holding its ground against what seems like a hoard of invading barbarians.

I bring this up because a church is almost always a product of its environment, but St. John the Evangelist seems to suffer little from being overwhelmed by its taller neighbors. Its columned, non-cruciform Gothic design is quite nice, with beautiful paintwork and an incredible marble altar that almost, but not quite, bests that one at St. John the Baptist.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature, though, is that the apse of the church is done in a custom, intricate woodwork frame with gold outlines. Woodwork is rarely seen in sanctuaries, and it's usually a treat when it is.

Look for it: The Miter of St. John Neumann, whose burial mass was held in this church.

One of the prettiest churches around.

How's It Doing?

By the looks of things, well. The parish's prime Center City location opens it up to a great number of tourists, office workers and other random visitors. And while permanent membership is important, there are far worse things than attracting a steady stream of fresh faces. With an attendance just under 1,000, and a recently completed masonry renovation on the twin spires, this is a parish that's pretty healthy.

Travel Tidbits

The Center City location means it’s really only convenient if you live there. Otherwise, you'll need to suffer SEPTA or brave the streets, neither of which is particularly appealing.

As far as safety, well, Center City is the crown jewel of Philadelphia, so a good deal of effort goes into making it secure. You tend to see a lot of interesting people, but they’re more the harmless-kook variety, not the stab-you-and-take- your-money variety.

Interesting Note

St. John the Evangelist is run by Capuchin Franciscan Friars, who, robes, sandals and all, really lend an air of authenticity and intrigue to the proceedings. I should also note that one of them stands guard at the back door during the mass. I know the church is always looking to increase numbers, but are we really at the point where we need to keep people from leaving?

The Final Word

Highly recommended.