Saint Clement's Church (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

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Saint Clement's Church
Saint clement's church philadelphia exterior apse.jpg
Location 2013 Appletree Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Coordinates 39°57′22.44″N 75°10′23.62″W / 39.9562333°N 75.1732278°W / 39.9562333; -75.1732278Coordinates: 39°57′22.44″N 75°10′23.62″W / 39.9562333°N 75.1732278°W / 39.9562333; -75.1732278
Built 1856 - 1859
Architect John Notman
Architectural style Romanesque Revival
NRHP reference # 70000555[1]
Added to NRHP 1970

Saint Clement's Church is a historic Anglo-Catholic parish in Philadelphia, and is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. On November 20, 1970, Saint Clement's Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[2]


On September 13, 1855, a charter was granted to “The Rector, Churchwardens, and Vestrymen of St. Clement’s Church in the City of Philadelphia”. The first rector was the Rev’d Henry S. Spackman, who was elected as soon as the first charter was received. His incumbency began officially on January 1, 1856. The cornerstone of the church building was laid on May 12, 1856, by the Rt. Rev’d Alonzo Potter, third Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

The land on which St. Clement’s was built was furnished by William S. Wilson, a Presbyterian and an Englishman, who with his two brothers came to this country and made a fortune as a manufacturer. He owned most of the land in the section of the city where St. Clement’s now stands, and his interest was directed to the development of a residential area by building row houses on Arch, Race and Twentieth Streets. He was eager that a church should be built, not so much because of any religious devotion on his part, but because he felt the erection of a church would greatly enhance the attractiveness of his residential projects.[3]

St. Clement's was the third Episcopal church to be designed by architect John Notman and built in Philadelphia between 1847 and 1859. He also designed St. Mark’s Church on Locust Street, the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square and, with Napoleon Le Brun, was associate architect for the Roman Catholic Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on Logan Square. In accordance with the architectural wisdom of the time, Notman maintained that the Gothic Revival style was best suited towards the liturgical worship of High Church congregations, while Romanesque Revival architecture was better suited for the conventional Low Church worship of mainstream Episcopal congregations. Unlike St Mark’s, which was erected for a High Church congregation and built in the Gothic Revival style, St. Clement’s was originally designed for a typical Low Church Episcopal congregation, and like the Church of the Holy Trinity, was designed in the Romanesque Revival style. Like its two nearby sisters, St. Clement’s was built entirely of brownstone. Its bell tower was originally topped by an impressive spire of over 200 feet in height. The weight of the spire was more than the foundation could support, and it was removed from the structure in 1869 in order to prevent damaging the foundation.

When the cornerstone was laid St. Clement’s was almost in the fields. The block between Arch and Race Streets had been, from about 1808 into the 1830s, the site of Sans Souci Garden, the largest for-profit botanical haven within the current-day confines of Center City. It had boasted a fine hotel at which visitors were furnished with fruit from the garden greenhouses as part of their refreshments. The garden was respected for its botanical collection; a portion of William Hamilton’s private collection—developed at the Woodlans in West Philadelphia—wound up there. The resort was also immediately south of the Magdalene Asylum (a private charitable organization for the redemption of prostitutes) and the Pennsylvania Asylum for the Blind—illustrating how such institutions were established outside of the populated sectors of the city.[4]

In the mid-1850s, few houses yet existed nearby and large tracts of open lots surrounded the ground that had been secured for the church. The grid of streets had hardly expanded westward as far as 20th Street and there was no City Hall in the Center Square. The Pennsylvania Railroad Terminal was located at 11th and Market Streets, and there was a covered wooden bridge over the Schuylkill River.

The building of St. Clement’s Church lasted three years because of recurring financial difficulties. Contemporary evidence indicates that at one time all work was stopped and the building stood roofless for a long period. It was finally opened for services on the first Sunday in January 1859. There is no record of any services for the congregation before the opening of the new building. The Church was consecrated on April 12, 1864. Bishop Potter again officiated and was assisted by Bishop Stevens, Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese, and by Bishop Lee of Delaware.

It was not until the arrival of Fr. Hermon Griswold Batterson in 1869 that the parish increasingly came to be influenced by the theology of the Oxford Movement. During Fr. Batterson's time as rector, the parish adopted many of the liturgical practices associated with the Catholic Revival then taking place within the Church of England.[5] These changes, which included liturgical practices such as the wearing of colored chasubles and stoles, placing lit candles on the altar during Mass, and genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, together with new theological emphases, including the encouragement of private auricular confession and absolution and encouraging prayer for the dead, were not uncontroversial.[5]

As conflict over Fr. Batterson's changes escalated, the parish became divided between two factions. The anti-Catholic low church faction was led by several vestrymen who had the public support of the diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev'd William Bacon Stevens. The Anglo-Catholic faction rallied in support Fr. Batterson as the anti-Catholic faction tried to remove him from office as rector.[5][6]

Despite having the support of the ordinary as well as that of the vast majority of the people and clergy of the diocese, the anti-Catholic faction was unable to use the judicial processes prescribed in the canons to remove Fr. Batterson from office as rector, and eventually the vestry, with the support of Bishop Stevens, voted to remove Fr. Batterson (and his curate) from office without the requisite canonical trial. The manner in which Fr. Batterson was dismissed, circumventing the proper procedures after forcing the parish to endure more than a year of internal conflict, caused the anti-Catholic faction to lose significant support among parishioners. As a result, control of the vestry shifted after the annual election of vestrymen when a number of Anglo-Catholic candidates defeated the incumbent anti-Catholic vestrymen. Later in the year, the vestry went on to elect Fr. Theodore M. Riley, an Anglo-Catholic, as the fourth rector of St. Clement's Church.

The catholicization of the parish continued during the tenure of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), more commonly known as the Cowley Fathers, who were responsible for the parish from 1876 to 1891. Some maintain that the work of the Fathers and the entire St Clement’s community among the poor and needy in Philadelphia may have influenced the Diocesan authorities to moderate their criticism of the “high church” parish. Father Charles Neale Field, one of the assistant priests sent to St. Clement’s from Cowley in 1882, established the Guild of the Iron Cross for Working Men and Boys during this time, eventually drawing thousands of working men from all over the United States into its membership. His intent was to create a “crusade against Blasphemy, Impurity and Intemperance among working men themselves” and posed the question "Are we by our lives and teachings preaching the gospel to the poor?" The guild was a recreational as well as a religious association. The jovial cleric from Yorkshire established the Iron Cross Parlor and Gymnasium in 1889, and he often took large groups of boys and men for outings at various parks and places out in the country. St. Clement’s was located near the great Baldwin Locomotive Works on Spring Garden Street and other nearby factories and workshops, so its congregation was surely made up of many working families whose fathers and sons were members of the Iron Cross Guild.[7]

It has also been widely said that St. Clement’s was one of the first Episcopal parishes in the city to be integrated. While direct evidence is scanty, unlike its neighboring parishes of St. Mark’s and Holy Trinity and numerous other Philadelphia churches, St. Clement’s never established a separate "mission church" for African-Americans. Also, Fr. Field had come to St. Clement's and established his outreach to the workers of the city having already become known for his ministry to persons of color, so the church already had a long tradition of tolerance and inclusion.

Meanwhile, one long cherished wish of Father Basil Maturin, rector from 1881 to 1889, and his assistant priests, was for the establishment of a hospital for adults. Beginning the work by opening a dispensary in a nearby house in 1885, the plan was to have evening hours so that the working people could benefit. The only requirement for treatment was to be poor and sick. By 1890, the hospital facility had moved to Cherry Street and expanded its services beyond the capacity of the parish to sustain them financially. After a brief period of retrenchment and use of the hospital exclusively to treat epileptics, in 1899 the building was sold to the Community of The All Saints Sisters of the Poor, to be used as a mission house.

The Cowley Fathers had withdrawn from St. Clement’s in 1891 to focus their American work and ministry in Boston and, in 1895, the Rev’d George Moffett became rector. His coming ushered in a new era of prosperity for the church. He built the present clergy house; began perpetual reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the crypt chapel; was the first to use the term “Mass” officially in the parish; put the first side altar in the church, and moved the baptistry from the head of the south aisle to the rear of the north aisle. Fr. Moffett served until his death in 1904. In 1895, Saint Clement’s became the first parish in the Diocese of Pennsylvania to institute perpetual reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.

The latter part of the 20th century saw a significant change in the church congregation as the nearby factories and other industrial and commercial establishments closed, families moved to the suburbs or farther away and the parish neighborhood changed profoundly. St. Clement’s evolved from a parish church to a shrine church, its outreach and membership becoming more regional and its pews filled on great feast days with worshippers often traveling great distances to partake of the traditional Masses that have continued.

Today, as its parish neighborhood is revitalized and new, young singles, students and families settle nearby, St. Clement’s continues as an inclusive community rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. The church still emphasizes the Episcopal Church’s continuity with Catholicism prior to the English Reformation. St. Clement’s therefore offers lavish worship and music with full Catholic ceremonial, including incense, bells, processions, chanting, and a professional choir. Mass is celebrated daily using the English Missal and the poetic English of the King James Bible, enhanced on Sundays and major feasts with classical music.


The location and orientation of the site on which St. Clement's was built posed a significant problem for the design of the church. The west end of the site, where the main façade and doors would typically be located, was in the middle of a city block. For Notman, the easy solution would have been to reverse the church, erecting the main entrance on the east side of the lot and the apse on the west side. However, this would have altered the eastward orientation of the building. Instead, Notman retained the apse on the east side of the church and incorporated it into the main façade.

The main façade is dominated by the bell tower and the assertive semi-circular apse, which features a blind arcade of simple columns and Romanesque arches. The blind arcade is broken at both ends by large stained glass windows. Just north of the apse exists the bell tower, which was originally topped by an impressive spire of over 200 feet in height. The weight of the spire was more than the foundation could support, and it was removed from the structure in 1869 in order to prevent damaging the foundation.

Saint Clement's Church circa 1889, after the removal of the spire

The nave of the church is of rectangular floor plan and possesses impressive height. The windows are contained within arched bays in the Romanesque style. Buttresses, topped by gablets with decorative carved reverse Ogee arches, separate each bay. Both the roof of the nave and of the apse are of grey slate. Along the ridge of the nave roof at both the east and west ends exist cupolas of carved brownstone, each surmounted by a carved stone cross.

In the early 20th century, the roof of the apse was raised some fifteen feet with the installation of a clerestory. This renovation was necessary in order to accommodate the installation of the triptych that currently stands above the high altar. While the clerestory windows mirror the Romanesque arches of the blind arcade, the elaborate exterior stonework above the clerestory windows incorporates forms found in both Gothic and Romanesque styles. Also completed about this time was the complete rebuilding of the roof and roof trusses of the nave, the original having been proved to be significantly deteriorated and unsafe.

In 1929 the City of Philadelphia undertook a project to widen North 20th Street by some forty feet. S. Clement’s Church was in the middle of the proposed expansion. Facing the prospect of having to demolish the church, the vestry undertook a project to move it. Two additional properties behind the church were purchased, and the 5,500 ton structure was raised onto steel beams, moved forty feet to the west, and placed onto a newly built foundation.

The interior of the church is dominated by the large carved oak reredos and triptych, installed in 1908, which stand above the high altar. The central panel of the triptych depicts Christ on the cross, clothed in the vestments of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Apostle at the foot of the cross. South of the sanctuary is the Lady Chapel, which features an altar and reredos of English red stone. The central niche of the reredos contains a statue of the Virgin and Child while the two side niches contain statues of St. Joseph and St. Elizabeth with St. John the Baptist. Located in the nave, the Shrine of Our Lady of Clemency climbs to a height of some twenty-five feet and features a statue of the Blessed Virgin depicted as Queen of Heaven replete with crown and sceptre. The nave also contains shrines dedicated to the church's major patron, Pope St. Clement I, pope from 88-97 AD, and to the church's minor patron, St. Catherine of Alexandria. The church’s four manual, 51 rank pipe organ is Austin Organ Company Opus 507, which was originally installed in 1914.


Saint Clement's uses the English Missal, an English language translation of the Tridentine Mass as it existed prior to the 1955 liturgical reforms of Pope Pius XII. Today, Low Mass is offered every day, using a liturgy based on the Anglican Missal and Book of Common Prayer (1928 American edition). A High Mass or Sung Mass is celebrated every Sunday of the year and on most major feasts. From Monday through Saturday, Evening Prayer is recited according to the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer is offered, followed by the novena prayers at the Shrine of Our Lady of Clemency.


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-12-18. 
  2. ^ National Register of Historical Places - PENNSYLVANIA (PA), Philadelphia County
  3. ^ "The Story of St Clement's Church", May Lilly/St Clement', privately published 1964, s
  4. ^ "Pleasure Gardens, without worry, in the City, HARRY KYRIAKODIS, Hidden City Philadelphia,
  5. ^ a b c Extracts from the Minutes of the Vestry of S. Clement's Church in the City of Philadelphia: Made in accordance with a resolution passed February 23, 1871. Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1871. Project Canterbury. Web. Accessed 15 Jan 2013.
  6. ^ St. Clement's Church Case: A Complete Account of the Proceedings in the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Philadelphia in Equity before the Honorable James R. Ludlow, one of the judges of said Court, to restrain the Vestry of St. Clement's Church from dismissing the Rector and Assistant Minister without a Trial, and against the Protest of the Congregation of said Church together with an Appendix Containing Statements of Similar Cases in New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts and Maryland. Philadelphia: Bourquin and Welsh, 1871. Reprinted in The Making of Modern Law: 1800-1916. Anthology. New York: Gale, 2012.
  7. ^ St Clement's Parish Magazine, various numbers 1882 - 1887
  8. ^ mjk38 (2014-05-13). "A Sermon in the Memory of Rev. George H. Moffett, Rector of St. Clement’s Church (1905)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  9. ^ mjk38 (2014-11-26). "Leaflet for the Solemn Requiem for the Repose of the Soul of Rev. Charles S. Hutchinson at St. Clement’s Church (1943)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  10. ^ mjk38 (2014-07-07). "Service Leaflet for the 25th Anniversary of Rev. Franklin Joiner as Rector of St. Clement’s Church (1945)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  11. ^ mjk38 (2014-04-27). "Leaflet for the Institution of Rev. William Elwell as Rector of St. Clement’s Church (1956)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  12. ^ mjk38 (2014-04-10). "Leaflet for the Institution of Rev. Edward Hendricks as Rector of St. Clement’s Church (1965)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  13. ^ mjk38 (2015-04-08). "Leaflet for the Institution of Francis C. FitzHugh as Rector of St. Clement’s Church (1979)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  14. ^ mjk38 (2014-07-28). "Leaflet for the Institution of Rev. Peter Laister as Rector of St. Clement’s Church (1986)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16. 
  15. ^ mjk38 (2014-07-09). "Leaflet for the Institution of Rev. Canon W. Gordon Reid as XVII Rector of St. Clement’s Church (2004)". Philadelphia Studies. Retrieved 2016-10-16.