Status: Active, Episcopal
22 E. Chestnut Hill Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Original visit: February 15, 2009
Where Is It?
Chestnut Hill Ave, right off Germantown Pike in glorious Chestnut Hill.
St. Paul brings a lot to the table: an endearing Gothic non-cruciform design, highlighted by plentiful, intricate woodwork around in and around the sanctuary and on the ceiling. You probably know by now that the Project generally doesn’t approve of wooden ceiling beams, but the work here is so good that I’m going to give it a pass. My mediocre camera, sadly, didn’t allow me to capture it for you.
The real reason St. Paul succeeds is that it avoids using white plaster, and instead relies on a stone interior. (I suspect it’s limestone, because it’s bleeding in a way similar to Bryn Athyn and Our Lady of Hope.) The stone not only evokes a great dark, classic feeling, but it avoids making the church look plain and boring. It also serves as a much better counter to the wood, which might explain why, for once, it doesn’t bother me.
Look for it: The intricately carved tympanum, above the entrance. It’s one of the most impressive we’ve seen.
Look for it, Part 2: The “baby” room, back in the right-hand corner of the church, which features rocking chairs and some toys to soothe your ankle-biters if they get too rowdy. It’s actually a rare feature in churches (St. Helena is the only other I know of to have one), and one that should be more prevalent. Pay special attention to the Tiffany window depicting Mary and the baby Jesus. It’s dark and not particularly ornate, but there’s something evocative about it nonetheless.
How the $#%@ do I get in here? It’s easier than you might think, since the front doors are actually where they should be. But the façade abuts closely to another building, and is connected to it by an overhang, so it’s not really prominent. Still, it’s better than most of its protestant ilk.
How's It Doing?
The 10:30 a.m. mass turnout was weak, and there are some aforementioned facility issues.
Time to panic?
No, not really. The 2008 annual report doesn’t give specific member figures, but it reveals a parish with considerable financial assets, an active ministry list, and even a school of sorts. That’s pretty darn good. They still, as always, have work to do, but they don’t look to be going anywhere.
Chestnut Hill is a fantastic area that’s reasonably easy to navigate, so it’ll be one of your easier journeys. The church even offers a parking lot, which is accessible from Bethlehem Pike. You can get more specific directions from their Web site.
I originally learned about St. Paul from The Gargoyle Hunter, a semi-local photographer who, at one time, was devoted to chronicling the gargoyles in Philadelphia and other nearby areas. He’s certainly neither as wacky nor as dedicated as I, but more so than anyone else, the Project can appreciate an unusually focused hobby.
The page hasn't been updated since 2002, give or take, so I don't think he's still doing it. Regardless, what's there isn't a bad way to spend a little time. You might just see some familiar faces while you're at it, too.
The Final Word
I like it more than I thought I would. Recommended.