The Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral was designated the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1992 by Bishop Allen Bartlett because of its large size, beauty, and location in West Philadelphia.
Previously, it had been the Church of the Saviour, built in 1855 by Samuel Sloan and then enlarged by the great Philadelphia architect Charles M. Burns.
Following a disastrous fire in 1902 which left only the front façade and the bell tower standing, the church was rebuilt and enlarged further by Burns in 1906.
The Church was well known for the beauty of the materials with which it was constructed and its elaborate embellishments and ornamentations. Of particular note is the mural in its chancel and semi-dome by the Victorian artist Edwin Howland Blashfield which was a memorial to Anthony J. Drexel, an important advocate for the Church, and the founder of Drexel University.
The Cathedral interior was reordered in 2000. After discovering that the floor of the nave and the foundation were in dire need of strengthening, the pews were removed. At that time, former Dean Giles advanced his vision of a reordered worship space, hearkening to the earliest cathedrals of the Church. The traditional elements found in the chancel were replaced with the Bishop’s cathedra and the presbyterium bench. Portions of the Blashfield mural were covered but remain accessible for future generations.
Layout and Design
Each component in the reordered cathedral reflects theology, teaching us about who we are and where we have come from in our Christian journey. The space articulates with clarity the basic elements of Christian liturgy, giving prominence to the four essential aspects—initiation, word, sacred meal, and Episcopal presidency.