Ukranian Catholic Cathedral
Status: Active, Ukrainian Catholic
830 N. Franklin Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Original visit: November 24, 2007
Where Is It?
830 N. Franklin Street, in greater Northern Liberties.
The Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (hereafter abbreviated UCC) actually has a lot in common with Project favorite St. Francis de Sales. Passionate readers will remember that the excellent St. Francis was based on Istanbul’s St. Sophia. Turns out, it’s not the only one. The UCC also claims to be based on the same church.
For the record, here is what St. Sophia, or Hagia Sophia, actually looks like (courtesy the internet):
Ok, so neither of them gets it exactly right.
But the UCC offers us an interesting case study in contrasting architectural approaches. Where de Sales used the dome as a central point of a grand church, the UCC just just built the dome…and stopped. It’s actually not a bad design choice, and it’s a pretty noble attempt. The Cathedral has decent size and there’s some really nice tile work, both inside and out. The gate separating the altar from the nave is also quite cool.
But ultimately their efforts are undone by the spartan architectural trends of the late 20th century. The masterminds just waited too damn long to build the thing. The construction was finished in 1966, at least a good 30 years past the truly ornate building period in these parts. Despite some nice touches the whole effect is rather austere, and there’s really no serious attempt at stained glass; most of the windows are (ack) just plain frosted glass. It just can’t shake its modern roots.
St. Francis de Sales didn’t exactly nail Sophia, either. But they came a heck of a lot closer. Having a 60-year head start will do that.
To be fair, the UCC’s Web site mentions that ”almost no ornamentation is needed, though the completion of the interior embellishments is an ongoing process which will continue over the years.”
The Project can hardly wait.
How's It Doing?
The last reliable number count I can find reports that the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia has 68,000 parishioners spread among 74 churches. I have no specific numbers for this church, but as the head of the Philadelphia Archeparchy, I have a hard time believing it’s in any sort of danger. The English mass I attended was sparsely populated, but if you’re going to be a Ukrainian Catholic, you probably speak Ukrainian anyway.
The icy Slavic stares of some of the parishioners dissuaded any further attempt at fact-finding.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Northern Liberties was reborn in the flame of gentrification that has been slowly been spreading outward from the city. It’s sort of like a reverse North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction. The ills of the past aren’t totally gone, but it’s a much different area than you would have encountered five or even 10 years ago. There was always a Ukrainian concentration around these parts, though, so that probably doesn’t matter too much. But for you visitors, it’ll bring additional peace of mind.
Getting there is surprisingly easy, too.
Ukranian Catholics receive communion with a spoon-like object, with which the host is dropped into your mouth.
As many readers have reminded me — at excruciating length — the spoon is not supposed to touch people's mouths, so it's probably no less sanitary than having some stranger use his or her hands.
I did not receive communion, but readers are, as always, encouraged to make up their minds when it comes to church practices.
The Final Word