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Cathedral Arts
Architecture of the Cathedral

In 1889, the Philadelphia architect Charles M. Burns received the commission to rebuild and expand an existing mid-nineteenth-century church at 38th and Chestnut Streets.  Devastated by a fire on April 17, 1902, little survived of Burns's church except the asymmetrically arranged bell tower and gabled main façade.  The congregation invited Burns to return as architect to rebuild the rugged brownstone Romanesque structure and expand it to a width of 84 feet and a length of 150 feet, making it one of the largest Episcopal churchs in the city.  

Charles M. Burns (1838-1922) had studied at the University of Pennsylvania, but the Civil War interrupted his academic career.  After the rebellion had been suppressed he returned to his native Philadelphia to launch what would become a highly successful practice specializing in Episcopal churches.  Armed with the rich palette of late Victorian tertiary colors, he lavishly orchestrated murals, stained glass, and stenciling.  

At the time of its dedication in 1906, the interior - called Norman in style by Burns - had not yet been fully ornamented. According to the Public Ledger, "two rows of polished granite columns, capped with Minnesota limestone, support a Flemish oak roof, whose hammer beams in the clerestory are carved with winged cherubim. All of the woodword is of polished Flemish oak, and the floors are of mosaic."  

Soon thereafter the American artist Edwin Blashfield applied the mural decorations, which are generall considered the principal treasure of the church.  These murals, Blashfield wrote, present "beauty applied to utility" as "a supreme teacher, through the arts of patriotism, morals and history." Dedicated as a memorial to Anthony J. Drexel, Blashfield's murals occupied the semidome and lower walls of the chancel and consist of a choir of angels surrounding a figure holding the Grail.  Eleven figures (at the lower level) holding lilies represent various types of humanity. 

Moss, R. W., & Crane, T. (2005). Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press.




Last Published: September 12, 2018 2:44 PM