Friday, May 19, 2017

"Among these dark Satanic mills": St James the Less, Philadelphia

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen! 
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? 
--William Blake, Jerusalem (1808)

Previously on Modern Medievalism, I toured the church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont: a splendid Gothic church in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Today I bring you some photos and commentary of another Gothic marvel: St James the Less.

An article on St James the Less from ten years ago already references Blake's poem, but I can't help repeating it for the title to my entry because it's so apt. St James is one of those churches you simply can't believe exists anywhere this side of the Atlantic until you step inside. I had, of course, heard about it because the pastor of my Ordinariate parish was rector of St James for some two decades in a previous chapter of his life (as an Episcopal priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition). As an enthusiast of Gothic architecture, I wanted to scope the church out for myself and so reached out to the current chaplain in residence at St James when it would be convenient to get a tour. He welcomed me to meet him immediately after a Sunday evening liturgy. Following Mass at my own parish and a brief rest at home, I made the drive out to a part of the city I had never been to before.


Idyllic as it might appear from the photos, St James is nestled in a neighborhood of Philadelphia which, I was told, has some of the lowest life expectancies in the state. More-or-less the opposite of Good Shepherd's Main Line neighborhood, the community around St James suffers from poverty, substance abuse, gang violence, and absent parents. Cutting through some urban decay, the old Tastykake factory, and the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery on the way, I pulled into streetside parking along a road which divides the church and the schoolhouse. As I walked in, the service was just beginning the Gloria in excelsis to a gospel-style tune, accompanied by both the organ and a bongo drum. The chaplain presided from a forward altar, a small table placed in front of the rood screen. From what I could tell, it seemed more of a "Rite II" order of worship, but my wife was waiting in the car with the children sleeping in their seats (or so I thought), so I decided to get back in and drive around until it was over.


When we got back, most of the (very small) congregation were still there for a community dinner, and the head of the school gave me a quick introduction to the church. In short, St James is not really "Gothic revival"--it's America's first ever church in an entirely authentic Gothic style because it's a replica of a 13th century village parish church near Cambridge (England, not Massachusetts) called St Michael's, Longstanton. The church's first sponsor was one Robert Ralston: a philanthropist who desired to build a house of worship for both the wealthy captains of industry whose mansions overlooked the Schuylkill River and the laborers who toiled in the textile mills nearby. This was a novel idea in the mid-1800's because congregations were typically segregated by class, e.g. the wealthy built a finely appointed church for themselves, and then a modest mission for their hired help further away. But Ralston and his partners were captivated by the ideas on faith and architecture put forth by the Oxford Movement and the Cambridge Camden Society.

A word on the Society: I haven't written about them on my blog before, but the CCS revolutionized Anglican church-building in the few decades they were active. They were a group of fiery Cambridge students; all wide-eyed modern medievalists like yours truly; who were doggedly determined to export the ideals of the Tractarians to every new Anglican church being built, whether in Great Britain, the United States, or anywhere else. It was the CCS that singlehandedly brought the chancel and choir stalls back into fashion at a time when neither Anglican nor Catholic clergy had much of a concept of sitting in-choir anymore.

View from the middle of the chancel, between the choir stalls.
By no means were they mere aesthetes: the Society rated an architect's personal life and theological beliefs as well as his designs "we do protest against the merely business-like spirit of the modern profession, and demand from them a more elevated and directly religious habit of mind". This also took on a sectarian lens: as a result, Augustus Welby Pugin earned low marks for being a Roman Catholic despite being the founding father of the Gothic revival, while William Butterfield (who never took a commission from Catholics) was the Society's golden boy, even if he strayed from CCS orthodoxy from time to time by using brick. More on the CCS can be read here on Victorianweb.

How is this at all relevant to St James the Less? Consider the Society's attitude to rented pews (a ubiquitous feature then): "What is the history of pues, but the history of the intrusion of human pride, selfishness, and indolence, into the worship of God?"  To the CCS, architecture was a tool for converting souls: "We know that Catholick ethics gave rise to Catholick architecture; may we not hope that, by a kind of reversed process, association with Catholick architecture will give rise to Catholick ethics?"

With the plans of a 13th century church in hand, sent to architect John Carver by the CCS, St James was built in 1846, and dedicated by the Episcopal bishop in 1850. Visitors, overwhelmed by the success of the parish's design, spurred a wave of imitations whose effects are seen to this day with the imprint of the Gothic revival everywhere in Protestant America: high or low church. Over the next century, the parish cemetery filled to capacity and urban sprawl engulfed the neighborhood--but next to nothing about the church itself, architecturally or spiritually, changed. At his arrival in the 1980's, my pastor (then rector of St James) picked up the torch of Anglo-Catholic worship via the Anglican Missal on the one hand, and social teaching on the other by operating the school for children, nearly all from broken or disadvantaged families, across the street. From what I can gather, the continuity of worship naturally extended to continuity of doctrine. His rectorship, along with the vestry of St James, wouldn't survive the sweeping changes of the Episcopal Church in regard to women's ordination, practicing homosexual clergy, and, I'm sure, other controversies that I'm not privy to as an outsider.

The second rood screen. The original was made of wood.
While I'm grateful that the school of St James is now back in operation and service to the children of the neighborhood, and that the chaplain very kindly gave me a tour of the church (now back in part-time use after several years of neglect), I must still say as a Roman Catholic that I'm glad my pastor made the choice of entering into full communion with Rome through the Ordinariate... because, speaking merely as a Gothicist, I would have been tempted to find some negotiation with the Episcopal diocese to live out the end of my days in this "green & pleasant Land". But, as I'm sure he would remind me, the Church is the faithful, not the building.

Like the Lady Chapel at Good Shepherd, this altarpiece is the work of Davis d'Ambly. His fingerprint is everywhere in Philadelphia.
This recessed sedilia is, curiously, only for two ministers (there is a seat for one directly across on the Gospel side). But it wasn't an oversight. See below.
This photo is from the model church in England: St Michael's, Longstanton. As you can see, the sedilias are substantially the same.
Like the original church in Cambridge, the western window here is very small. A massive window would probably been well beyond the means of a 13th century village parish's budget.
The confessional. The chaplain admitted to me it's currently used as storage, though he said he would like to teach the schoolchildren about auricular confession as, in his words, "it's a sacrament of the Church".
This is just one part of the sprawling cemetery around the church.
The carillon tower. At the base rests the mausoleum of the Wanamaker family. John Wanamaker was actually a Presbyterian, but his family's legacy looms over Philadelphia like the Waynes of Gotham.
The door to the Wanamaker crypt.


The churchyard is a "who's who" of Victorian Episcopal bishops, famous Civil War generals, architects, and members of prominent Philadelphia families like the Biddles.

Who knew graveyards were so much fun?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Requiem: the album


I've finally gotten around to seeing the promo video for the FSSP's new chant album: "Requiem". It's a stunning clip that deserves to be watched with full attention (fullscreen, 1080p, not on a smartphone). Everything about it exudes the medieval ideal of the liturgical choir... and what I'm striving to attain with my little start-up schola of male, surpliced chanters in the Philadelphia area. See below:




"Requiem" can be purchased directly from the Fraternity's site here. As an aside, I'm pleased to observe that one of the seminarians featured in the video assisted in the role of subdeacon for our nuptial Mass in 2014....



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Non ministrari, sed ministrare: a tour of Good Shepherd, Rosemont


This upcoming Sunday (or, in the old Roman calendar and the BCP, last Sunday) is "Good Shepherd Sunday": the day on which the Gospel is read of Christ telling the Pharisees, "I am the Good Shepherd: and I know mine, and mine know me". It's fitting, then, that I took this week to visit a grand little neo-Gothic gem right along the main thoroughfare of the Main Line west of Philadelphia: the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont.

Good Shepherd belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, but is of massive consequence to Roman Catholics for a few reasons. Unlike S. Clement's church in center city (which was originally built as a "preaching barn" and only later became a famous Anglo-Catholic shrine), Good Shepherd was built from day 1 to import the ideals of the Oxford Movement to these quiet Quaker suburbs. I'm connected to Good Shepherd by proxy in that, when I moved here from Texas a couple years ago, I happened to join the (Roman Catholic) Ordinariate parish here which received a former rector of Good Shepherd along with many members of his old flock. It's no surprise that, in the course of fellowshipping with parishioners, I hear a lot of stories about this place which they called home for decades. I've recently taken an interest in getting more familiar with the history of the Episcopal Church, especially the two parishes to which my fellow-parishioners belonged and their liturgical traditions--and since you can only learn so much by verbal accounts, I decided to introduce myself to the current rector of Good Shepherd by email and ask for a tour of the grounds, which he was very glad to do.


Before I share more pictures and commentary, it behooves me to give (as impartially as I can with my very limited knowledge of the subject), a brief introduction to Good Shepherd's history. The current building was raised during the 1890's as an admirable imitation of the English country churches of the 14th century. It's along the Main Line: the most affluent suburban region of greater Philadelphia. At the turn of the 20th century, Italian and other immigrant laborers who built the railroad out of the city set up Catholic parishes around here which, I'm sure, were packed with back-to-back low Masses around the clock in those days. Their employers, meanwhile, worshipped in more modestly sized congregations within finely appointed Protestant churches of near-invariably Gothic revival designs. The primary benefactor for Good Shepherd's building was Harry Banks French, president of a pharmaceutical company which exists now as the massive GlaxoSmithKline in London.

Good Shepherd was Anglo-Catholic not only liturgically, but socially. In other words, they knew you could have solemn high Mass every Sunday AND serve the poor and sick with no contradiction. Indeed, for them, the one naturally led to the other. In an age where railroad magnates and robber barons were dividing the world's wealth among themselves, it was the Anglo-Catholics--those who worshipped with the most splendid vestments, candlesticks, and other fineries of all--who issued a firm "no" to this culture of exploitation. Good Shepherd made waves for rejecting the system of pew rentals (yes, you were expected to pay for your seat back then) that other Protestant churches commonly used to keep the roof up. Even before the current building was up, Good Shepherd, living up to its name, started what was the only hospital on the Main Line at the time. I quote from a short history written by a fellow-parishioner:
"The Home and Hospital operated for fifty years. It took in children, both boys and girls, who needed extra care and attention and kept them until they were able to be on their own again. It was residential, and most of the children were not confined to their beds or even to the premises; they attended classes at the local public school less than a mile away. The Hospital was run by the Parish, but cooperation and involvement from other parishes were invited, as well as from the community at large."
When you drive by the church, as probably thousands of people do daily, you'll see its motto written out in Latin on a sign in testament to this legacy: non ministrari, sed ministrare ("not to be served, but to serve").

Fr Rutler as 7th rector of Good Shepherd
In the 1970's, massive changes in the Episcopal Church at large came crashing down on Good Shepherd--which, by now, had been upholding the idea of the seven sacraments for a hundred years. Fr George Rutler is now a famous Catholic priest for his appearances on EWTN, writing for Crisis magazine, and celebrating the traditional Latin Mass in New York City... but he got his start in ministry as the 7th rector of Good Shepherd, then the youngest rector in the whole Episcopal Church. Back then, Fr Rutler was one of the loudest voices in opposition to ordaining women. Not long after women's ordination was voted in, Fr Rutler left. He was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in the early '80s.

This pattern of catching the "Roman bug" was maintained by several other Episcopal priests who served at Good Shepherd in successive years. Another former rector, Fr Jeffrey Steenson, is well-known for having become the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter (the predecessor of my current bishop, +Steven Lopes). The rector from 1991-2011, after a protracted legal battle with the Episcopal Diocese which is beyond me to summarize here, eventually entered the Ordinariate as a layman and remains a simple parishioner. One former curate is now pastor of Mount Calvary, Baltimore: one of only a few Ordinariate parishes I know of which successfully managed to transfer their buildings from the Episcopal to the Catholic Church, along with rector and congregation. I also recently discovered that a curate in the early '90s left the Episcopal Church not for Catholicism, but Orthodoxy. He now serves as pastor of a western rite Orthodox parish in Maryland.

The Lady Chapel. The altarpiece was made by local liturgical artist Davis d'Ambly. The altar frontal is fabric from the famous Watts & Co, London.
The current rector is Fr Montgomery: like myself, a total outsider to the controversies surrounding Good Shepherd. Despite my affiliation with the Ordinariate, he was quite willing to get to know me and give a tour of the property. When I arrived, it was just about time for Evening Prayer. It was a simple affair led by Fr M and assisted by a young fellow I met once before at a SCKM event--turns out he works nearby and so heads over to Good Shepherd on weekday afternoons like a dutiful parish clerk to ring the tower bell and assist with the evening Office. (My dream job, if ever I had one.) There was the Phos Hilaron, two psalms, a hymn sung to the tune of Vexilla Regis, the Mag and Nunc with antiphons, and a collect for St Monica. Since I was there, Fr M added a prayer intention for the Ordinariate towards the end.

Whether by coincidence or providence, this window in the chapel to St Monica stood out to me since it was her feast day.

The three of us chatted a bit afterward and walked around so I could get a good feeling of the place. It was immediately apparent to me why anyone with Anglo-Catholic sentiments would have a hard time leaving the place: every stone and glimmering of light from the windows called out to the innermost depths of my English heritage and Sarum-ite, Puginquese spirituality. It's a place that's immortalized as a hymn tune in the 1940 Hymnal. The place made its mark on the Episcopal Church even as recently as the 1990's when it published the Anglican Service Book: an adaptation of the 1979 BCP to restore traditional English and supplement the book with many Catholic additions like the Stations of the Cross, absolutions for the dead at Requiems, and importantly, the Roman Canon. The Anglican Service Book is wedged into the back of every pew at GS. As I made my way out, the rector kindly let me take a copy on an indefinite loan to study. My hope is to take everything I learned from this trip to help my parish preserve the best of their traditions.


The baptistery is in a separate chamber with its own roof. The lid over the font, which can be raised or lowered by a pulley, is exquisite.
A double-desk in the chapel for reading the lessons.
The base has a coat of arms for each person of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
View from the nave. No architect in turn-of-the-century Philadelphia would have been asked to build a Catholic church in an arrangement like this with an elongated chancel and choir stalls.... yet this is the Catholic tradition, inherited from us to the Anglicans, and how it should be once again. 
The rood screen, which divides the nave from the chancel, was added some time after the parish's initial construction. May every Ordinariate parish some day have one of these!
The Epistle-side choir stalls. Each coat of arms is from some Anglican institution or another (one is, I think, from the Royal School of Church Music). The canopy over the rector's stall was a late addition.
The traditional Roman Rite supposes the three ministers of Mass all sit on a bench with no back. But the medieval English tradition was for them to sit in a sedilia, so recessed as to be entirely out of view of the people. It bears mentioning that, far as I know, solemn Mass with three ministers was the every-Sunday norm at Good Shepherd in reality, not just theory, for most of its history.

The high altar. Note the great care given in the English Gothic tradition for covering the altar with a proper frontal, matching the liturgical color of the day. An uncovered altar is a nude altar.

The sacristy table with the opening text of Psalm 42 in large print ("I will go unto the altar of God: even unto the God of my joy and gladness.") I'm happy to say we use these prayers at my parish.
I asked Fr M to show me one of his favorite vestment sets. He pulled out this low Mass set for Requiems. As he put it back, he picked up a maniple that accidentally got on the floor which had a hanging scale embroidered on the base. "Just in case you didn't believe in the Last Judgment", he said.
Old photo, maybe from the 1930's? Good Shepherd maintained a traditional boys' choir until relatively recently.
View facing the front door and the street.
This magnificent window above the portal was, I believe, commissioned in thanksgiving of victory after World War I. The archangels are accompanied by allegorical figures of Victory and Faith.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Easter Vigil video

Dear friends, I edited my previous post on the Easter Vigil to replace the Facebook livestream with this high-quality recording below, which was just posted recently. Be sure to set it to 1080p and share with your friends. 

(For those who care, I begin the first prophecy at the 29:00 mark.)