St. Martin of Tours

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

Founded: 1923
Construction: 1949

Roosevelt Blvd. and Cheltenham Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19124

Visit its website

Original visit: February 17, 2007

Where Is It?

Oxford Circle, where it literally sits on top of Roosevelt Boulevard. Ok, maybe not LITERALLY on top. That would screw up the traffic even more. But it overlooks it, kind of like a Sphinx.

The Skinny:

How about we get some Tweener Church love going on? St. Martin of Tours is, in many ways, the quintessential tweener.

It’s big, alright. One of the biggest around. But where older churches filled out their designs with precious little carvings, engravings or pilasters, Martin of Tours is content to just be big. There are no frills, and not even a tower or a dome. Really, it’s just a huge, sheer quasi-rectangle of holiness.

Inside, the church is predictably grandiose, given its exterior mass. But it’s also fairly pretty. Interestingly, it’s done in a strange green tile, which I’ve never seen anywhere else. Under some circumstances it vaguely resembles a bath house, particularly given the color. (Really, why light green?) But I’m just nitpicking. It’s quite nice, and probably the best of its kind this far north. The baldachin around the altar is lovely as well.

The feel is very reminscent of Germantown's gargantuan Immaculate Conception and to a lesser extent, Cobbs Creek's Transfiguration of Our Lord. Coincidentally, all three have lower church doors in the front, which is not nearly as common as it sounds.

Upper v. Lower Church: Yep, again. The vigil mass was frustratingly held downstairs. Luckily, fate just happens to shine on me, as the upper church was open for a wedding. Not as good as actually having mass up there, but at least we got to see it.

How's It Doing?

As Lower Northeast Philadelphia goes, so too will this parish. And as an area in transition, that poses a lot of challenges for St. Martin. Especially since, as a church that's big and expensive to operate, it has very little wiggle room.

That said, as far as I know the church is in good shape, it still has a school, and the attendance, while declining, still remains at 1,300-plus. A far cry from their 15,000-plus population heyday, but about as good as you'll find these days.

Cross your fingers.

Travel Tidbits

Oxford Circle may no longer be a Caucasian paradise, but if you confine yourself to the vicinity of the church you shouldn't have much to worry about. The more pressing problem may be driving on the Boulevard and making it around that damn circle.

Slightly Annoying Note

While slinking around the upstairs church, I passed a nun who warned me not to dawdle or I’d get locked in. I think she was only half-joking. 

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The Final Word

The best church the NE has to offer.