Church of St. James the Less

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St. James-the-Less Episcopal Church
James the Less HABS.jpg
Location Hunting Park Ave. at Clearfield St.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 40°0′14″N 75°10′59″W / 40.00389°N 75.18306°W / 40.00389; -75.18306Coordinates: 40°0′14″N 75°10′59″W / 40.00389°N 75.18306°W / 40.00389; -75.18306
Built 1846
Architect George Gordon Place; John E. Carver
Architectural style Other, Gothic Revival
NRHP Reference # 74001801[1]
Added to NRHP November 20, 1974

The Church of St. James the Less is a historic Episcopal church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that was architecturally influential. As St. James-the-Less Episcopal Church, it is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Historic church[edit]

The building was added to the list of National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. According to the National Park Service's official Statement of Significance (as of designation, February 4, 1985): "This is the first example of the pure English Parish church style in America, and one of the best examples of a 19th-century American Gothic church for its coherence and authenticity of design. Its influence on the major architects of the Gothic Revival in the United States was profound."[2]

Front view of the church
St. Michael's Church, now disused, Longstanton, Cambridgeshire, England, the model for St. James-the-Less

The building's remarkable fidelity to Gothic architecture was accidental. When the congregation applied to its parent group in Cambridge, England, for a set of approved plans for its church, it was inadvertently sent measured drawings, prepared by the English architect, George Gordon Place, of St. Michael's Church in Longstanton, Cambridgeshire, built c. 1230, which were followed in every detail under the supervision of architect John E. Carver.[3]

Set on the edge of a hill, north of Mount Vernon Cemetery and east of Laurel Hill Cemetery, the setting for the church is no longer rural. West Hunting Park Avenue, a major artery, is just beyond the churchyard's south wall, and industrial buildings lie to the west. A parish hall, which later housed the parish school, was built on the opposite side of West Clearfield Street .

The Wanamaker Memorial Bell Tower and mausoleum (1908), designed by John T. Windrim, houses a set of J.C. Deagan, Inc. tower chimes and a chime of bells by the McShane foundry.


On 26 September 1846, members of the Episcopal Church founded the Church of St. James the Less under the corporate name of "Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of St. James the Less."[4] The Church was admitted to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on 22 May 1846.[4]

The congregation of St James the Less had disaffiliated from the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1999 over theological differences, and the diocese sued the parish in 2001 to seize the property. The Pennsylvania courts eventually decided that while the parish owns the property, there exists an “implied trust” in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, and the congregation left. The church and associated school were closed in 2006, when, after a lengthy court battle, the Diocese of Pennsylvania assumed control of the property.

The Church of Saint Michael the Archangel [1] is an Anglican Use Roman Catholic parish continuing the parochial and congregational life of the Church of Saint James the Less. Sunday Mass is at 9:00 am at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 140 E. Mount Airy Avenue, Philadelphia, PA.

In the summer of 2008, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania voted to allow St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, to adopt the Church of St. James the Less as a mission of St. Mark's. With the assumption of St. James as a mission of St. Mark's a weekly celebration of Mass was resumed on Sundays at 5:00 pm.

In June 2009, the first City Camp took place, where children aged from 6-12 participated in a Vacation Bible School. A help from St. Francis Episcopal Church (Potomac, Maryland) and St. Mark's Episcopal Church made this event possible. It lasted from June 22, 2009 to June 27, 2009, although members from both churches helped before and after to make it possible. A second successful City Camp was held in 2010.


As part of its responsibility for mission at Saint James the Less, Saint Mark's Church began a fundraising effort to open a new parish school to serve the local community. Beginning with a successful after-school program in the fall of 2010, staff were hired, renovations begun and in September 2011 Saint James School opened[2], covering grades 5 to 8. The school is part of the NativityMiguel Network of Schools and The National Association of Episcopal Schools.[3]

Notable interments[edit]

Wanamaker Memorial Bell Tower and Mausoleum (1908), John T. Windrim, architect.

The surrounding churchyard is the final resting place of several notable people. The cemetery is open to the public when the school is in session, generally weekdays from 7am-6pm, and on the weekends during school events.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ Listing at the National Park Service
  3. ^ American Architecture: A History, by Leland M. Roth
  4. ^ a b Joseph D. O'Keefe, A.J. (10 March 2003). "In re: Church of St. James the Less: Opinion" (PDF). 953NP of 2001. Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Orphans Court Division. p. 2. Retrieved 8 May 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l St. James-the-Less Episcopal Church at Find a Grave
  6. ^ John R. Goldsborough at Find a Grave
  7. ^ Horton, Loren N. (2003). The Beautiful Heritage: A History of the Diocese of Iowa. Des Moines: Diocese of Iowa. p. 61. 
  8. ^ The Ancestry and Posterity of Matthew Clarkson, by J. R. T. Craine

Further reading[edit]

  • King, Moses. Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians. New York: Blanchard Press, Isaac H. Blanchard Co., 1901.
  • Stanton, Phoebe B., The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste, 1840-1856. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968. ISBN 0-8018-5622-1
  • Webster, Richard J., Philadelphia Preserved. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1976. ISBN 0-87722-089-1

External links[edit]