Philadelphia’s Most Interesting Churches

July 29, 2014 7:00 AM

(credit: John Ostapkovich)

There are approximately 110 churches in Philadelphia. The city was founded by William Penn who had his fair share of religious persecution. In his planning of the city, he encouraged religious freedom of choice and because of this, attracted not just fellow Quakers, but the many immigrants from all over including France, Ireland, Holland and Germany which included Catholics, Lutherans, Jewish and the Amish. Currently, the religious choices in Philly are as diverse as the citizens of the city. Whether you are looking into the churches of Philly for spiritual reasons, historical significance or just because you admire their architecture, here are a few standouts worth a visit.

Cathedral of Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
18th St. and Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 561-1313

One of the most beautiful churches in Philly is The Cathedral of Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. It was constructed from 1846-1864 in the style of the Lombard Church of Saint Charles in Rome. The pipe organ is a prominent feature as well as the stained glass and numerous ornate structures. This is a Roman Catholic Church and the largest in Pennsylvania. It is also listed on the U.S. National Register of Historical Sites. This church holds over 2,000 people and has eight separate side chapels. The original builders wished to protect it so constructors threw stones up in the air to determine how high the building’s windows needed to be placed to avoid vandalism at a time when tensions were high between Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia.

Related: Top Historical Spots In Philadelphia

Christ Church
22-26 N. 2nd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19105
(215) 922-1695

One of the most historic churches in Philadelphia is Christ Church. This is an Episcopal church that has a parish that dates back to 1695. Many historical figures from colonial and revolutionary history are buried in the cemetery and at the nearby Christ Church Burial Ground. This includes the tomb of Benjamin Franklin as well as numerous other signers of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. For having such a rich roster of historically significant parishioners and important people buried on its grounds, Christ Church is referred to as “The Nation’s Church.” It was designed in the Georgian Architectural style.

First Presbyterian Church
Rittenhouse Square
201 S. 21st St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 567-0532

Beautiful on the inside and out — and not just literally — this is a welcoming church in the spirit of what Christianity is said to stand for. The church provides childcare, works with habitat for humanity and embraces the LGBT community. Stained-glass art and the church’s architecture fit perfectly with the rest of Rittenhouse Square’s beauty. The first Presbyterian church of the city, the building was designed in 1698 and the one in which the congregation meets was completed in 1872 (but had several other homes beforehand). Three signers of the Declaration of Independence attended here. The architect, Henry Augustus Sims, designed the church in Gothic revival style.

Freedom Church
Prince Music Theater
1412 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 702-0743

If you are looking for a church to attend that is both interesting and beautiful, you may be seeking Freedom Church. While Freedom Church is not a beautiful old building — it has yet to build an official building for its congregation — the Church was founded in 2003 and is a non-denominational church. Attendees described Freedom Church as friendly and not pushy. The members of this church have unified beliefs in God and Jesus Christ. They post audio of their sermons online. The church’s main beliefs are “Free to live, free to love, free to serve.”

Related: Top Date Ideas For Art Lovers In Philadelphia

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
1625 Locust St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 735-1416

St. Mark’s is a national historic landmark and on the register of historic places. This is because of it had the first known stone vaulted ceiling in the United States. Constructed in 1849 by John Notman in the Gothic Revival style, Rodman Wanamaker donated furnishings and helped fund the building of the chapel. The tower, which was constructed later, has change-ringing bells; this is where eight bells are rung in a series of mathematical patterns called “changes” without trying to make any conventional melody. The bell system was refurbished in 1999 and can still be enjoyed today.

Christina Dagnelli is a freelance writer in Philadelphia and the author of Little Squares with Colors: A Different way to look at autism. Her work on examiner can be found here

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