Monday, June 26, 2017

Lauda Sion Salvatorem: photos from Corpus Christi 2017

At the beginning of the month, I posted a short history of the feast of Corpus Christi. Now I can share with you some photos from our celebration of that great day in the Philadelphia area. We had a solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul, followed by a procession around the church and Benediction. Neither the killer traffic into the city nor the inconvenient Thursday date deterred clergy/seminarians, altar servers, and choristers from all around--Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Diocese of Wilmington, and Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter--from giving glory to God. The pastor of my parish was among those in-choir.

Many thanks to Mrs. Allison Girone, whom I met last month at the diocesan TLM community in Wilmington, Delaware, for taking these images below. You can view her blog here.

Leading deacon and celebrant from the sacristy to the high altar
Incensations at the Offertory
The elevation
Holy Communion

Preparing for the procession
The priests in the procession wear chasubles not because they're concelebrating, but to represent their order in the major clergy
Only the Lord in the Eucharist has the honor of being preceded by two thurifers in the Roman Rite
Pange lingua gloriosi...

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
Recession

The exterior of the Cathedral at night, after the liturgy


It may also be worth sharing these photos taken by another friend with my own camera.

Vesting with the amice
Blurry, but this is me giving the kiss of peace to my pastor in-choir, after the Agnus Dei

Family together after Mass

A collection of short video clips....


Monday, June 19, 2017

Evangelization through beauty: the Saint Bede Studio

Sacred vestments can be odd to the desacralized imagination. Especially in their traditional forms, vestments are cumbersome, utterly impractical, even garish to those who are more used to seeing ministers in coat and tie. The spirit that moves contemporary Christians to ridicule the use of vestments--that the clergy must "conform to the times"--is the very opposite of why the Church mandates their use! For vestments, properly made, take the priest and his ministers out of the ordinary world and into sacred space, sacred time. From the amice ("the helmet of salvation") to the "tunicle of delight" and the "dalmatic of justice", each garment further hides the minister wearing it to allow him to be the servant of the liturgy--not its master.

I'd like to highlight the work of a vestment-maker I've been following for more than five years: the Saint Bede Studio. Based out of Australia, the Studio's stated aim is to produce sacred vestments in a range of styles inspired by Benedictine spirituality: all hand-made, not out of a catalog but according to custom designs. I also appreciate that (like my traveling schola of Gregorian chanters) the Studio undertakes their work as part of a spiritual apostolate.


The Saint Austin design

Since we observed Pentecost earlier this month, it's fitting to start by looking at this recently made red chasuble below, made for a priest in the Diocese of Arlington (Virginia).


They call this the "Saint Austin" design, after the apostle of the English so greatly revered by Augustus Welby Pugin: Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Pugin was, of course, not only an architect, but a master of all fields of liturgical design. The braiding used by Saint Bede is based directly upon Pugin's designs, like the chasuble below, which the father of the Gothic revival designed for Saint Augustine's Abbey, Ramsgate.

This original Pugin chasuble was eventually given by the monks of Saint Augustine's, Ramsgate to the Victoria & Albert Museum. See here for more info.

The semi-conical design

One of my favorite designs is the most ancient: the voluminous conical chasuble. This is the style most clearly descended from the paenula: the ancient Roman "poncho", or outer garment adopted by the clergy for sacral use. An old black-and-white photo from the era of its revival in monastic communities can be seen below.


By the 13th century, perhaps spurred on by the rise of private low Masses and the attending lack of assistance from the deacon and subdeacon to help hold the excess fabric around the arms, this cut had gradually been reduced. The first stage was what we might call the "semi-conical" chasuble, as worn by Saint Thomas Becket and depicted here. One of the more striking examples of the semi-conical style might be this Lenten chasuble below made for a priest in Trenton, New Jersey (not far from me) several years ago. The purple is accented with black and a grey which suggests the famous ash of Ash Wednesday. Not strictly a replica of a medieval design, but with a contemporary touch appreciated by a self-dubbed "Modern Medievalist" like myself.



Here's a tunicle from the same set.

The Saint Martin design

Another chasuble in the line of ample cuts, the Saint Martin style is named after Saint Martin of Tours. While the word "Roman" when applied to vestments usually summons to mind the fiddeback, its use by the Saint Bede Studio is meant to draw from much older inspirations of Roman vestments in art. Below is a photo submitted by Father Samuel Fontana: a then-newly ordained priest. Note the decoration, like the semi-conical shown above, relies upon the Tau cross.

The Borromeon design

Not to be concerned exclusively with medieval designs, the Studio also offers vestments in the so-called "Borromeon" style, after Saint Charles Borromeo: a famous leader of the Counter-Reformation period. The fathers of the Council of Trent still would not have known anything like the vestments we call Baroque today. The Borromeon chasuble is an interim cut which isn't as ample as the Gothic, but still extends partway down the priest's arm. Here's a nice "action photo" from, once again, a priest's first Mass, this time in Brooklyn.

Father Carlos Velasquez incensing the altar at St Joseph's church, Brooklyn. More info here.
Dalmatic from the same set.

The papal set

At last, it's worth mentioning that the Saint Bede Studio had the tremendous honor of supplying a vestment set for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to Sydney, Australia. Click here for a detailed blog post on some of the inspirations and design details of that project. Below is a photo of His Holiness wearing the Studio's chasuble and mitre.



If anything you've seen here or on the Studio's website inspires you to commission a set for yourself or a priest (or deacon) in your life, be sure to send an inquiry to their email address as given on their blog. I'm told their commissions for 2018 are filling up quickly, so the time to place an order is now!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Making Whitsuntide great again

Illuminated initial from the Ranworth Antiphonal
The Modern Medievalist was busy as the bees sung of during the Exsultet last weekend! Saturday evening, I assisted Mater Ecclesiae Chapel once again as a singing lector for the prophecies of the vigil of Pentecost (as it was known prior to the reforms of Pius XII). Then the following morning, I hauled my schola of plainchanters out for a guest appearance at a Latin Mass community in Wilmington, Delaware for Pentecost Sunday. In my absence, my own parish celebrated the feast by confirming and receiving some new members into full communion with Rome. Everywhere in the region, churches have done their best to mark Pentecost (or, as I like to say, Whitsunday) as one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical cycle.

What is "Whitsunday?"

The more familiar name for the feast, Pentecost, is explained easily enough by references to Pentekostos: the Greek word for 50. It's the fiftieth day after Easter, celebrating the descent of the Holy Ghost over the Apostles and, some may say, the birthday of the Church. "Whitsunday" is an expression of the medieval English church, the origins of which are lost to time. Some say it's because of the white albs worn by those baptized on this day, or because the Sarum Missal called for the clergy in England to wear white vestments instead of the red we're now accustomed to. A rival theory is that the "whit" is not short for "white", but a reference to "wit", i.e. the gift of wisdom given to the Apostles.

Whitsun Eve

Today, the two greatest feasts of the liturgical cycle are widely reckoned to be Easter and Christmas. In the earliest ages of Christianity, though, the second place of honor was not Christmas, but Pentecost: a feast known even in the Old Covenant and observed as a Christian feast almost since apostolic times. Knowing its preeminence can help us understand why the Church saw it fit to prepare for Pentecost with its own Easter-like vigil all the way up to 1955.

The ancient Roman rite, as it was observed at Mater Ecclesiae last Saturday evening, begins with six prophecies from the Old Testament. All the readings, with their tracts, are "reruns" from the Easter Vigil--although the collects after each reading are unique to Pentecost. The baptismal font is blessed again with the chant Sicut cervus and all the same ceremonies as used at the Easter Vigil. Once that's done, the ministers return to the foot of the altar and lay prostrate while everyone kneels and sings the Litany of Saints (all petitions "doubled" by cantor and congregation, again like the Easter Vigil). After the Litany, the Mass begins. As at the Vigil, the Introit is omitted, and no candles are carried at the Gospel reading. The latter suggests that the Pentecost "event" is watched for, but not celebrated in advance.



To the average Catholic; and perhaps even the average priest; this would seem like the most redundant ceremony ever devised by the medieval Church. Why repeat all these solemn ceremonies involving baptism so soon after Easter? Other than restating the obvious (that Peter baptized three thousand souls at Pentecost), I would remark that in those early centuries of Christianization, there were always a few catechumens who weren't quite ready to accept baptism by the time the Easter Vigil rolled around. They perhaps needed special attention, which the ancient Church provided them, and prepared the stragglers for reception at the vigil of Pentecost.

By the High Middle Ages, though the catechumenate virtually ceased to exist in the west, the association of Whitsun Eve with baptism yet lingered on. The Sarum Use of England before the Reformation held that infants born in the normal course of the year were to be baptized shortly thereafter... but if they were born within eight days prior to Easter or Whitsunday, they were to be reserved for baptism during the vigils of either feast so long as they were deemed healthy.

The hierarchy seems to now be reaching the understanding that demolishing the vigil of Pentecost wasn't a good idea. The latest edition of the Ordinary Form Missal now includes the option of an extended Vigil in its appendix, which more and more churches are adopting.... including the Cathedral-Basilica in Philadelphia, where we also frequently celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. The Cathedral's rector, Father Dennis Gill, recently wrote a thorough article on the extended Pentecost Vigil here on Adoremus. In short, while the new rite still doesn't reclaim the baptismal character of the old, there's still an allowance for four Old Testament prophecies, each followed by a tract (or responsorial psalm, most likely) and a collect.

The Divine Worship Missal of the "Anglican" Ordinariates goes a bit further. It takes the OF's extended vigil with the four added prophecies as a starting point and then expands it further by adding the Litany of Saints. The baptismal character of the Vigil is restored insofar as that the rite envisions baptisms to take place here (or else, the renewal of baptismal promises) but there is no blessing of the font, as in the pre-1955 Latin rite. A fuller description was recently given by Mr. DiPippo in the New Liturgical Movement here.

Whitsunday

Our schola circled up for the Mass of Whitsunday
Whitsunday was such a momentous feast even in the later Middle Ages that it marks the day when, according to Malory's L'Morte de Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table saw a vision of the Holy Grail, inspiring them to undergo their famous quest!

The pastor of Saint Patrick's church in Wilmington, Delaware, following a wedding I assisted him for last month, kindly invited me to bring my schola of chanters out to his parish to add something special to the city's Sunday Latin Mass. The community only has sung Mass the first Sunday of each month, and are by no means accustomed to a Gregorian schola using full minor Propers out of the Liber Usualis, so our appearance was perhaps an out-of-this-world experience for them! I opted, as I usually do, to place the schola as near the sanctuary as possible rather than the organ loft to emphasize its role as a liturgical choir--the "choir of Levites". Since I was told the congregation isn't used to singing the Ordinary of the Mass, we did a mix of some of the lesser-used Ordinary chants from the Kyriale for the sake of variety (mostly in mode I, like the sequence of Pentecost). 

For me, the"high water mark" of the sacred chants for Whitsunday has long been the second Alleluia. In the old rite (and now the Ordinariate Use as well), all kneel while the verse is sung:
"Come, Holy Ghost, and fill the hearts of thy faithful people: and kindle in them the fire of thy love."



I cantored this verse, which ends with one of my favorite melismas in the whole cycle of chant.... a melody which I've always found strikingly beautiful, and not a little "eastern" in flavor. After the verse, the schola rose and continued not by repeating the Alleluia, but going straight into the golden sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus. I think I might like this sequence even more than the Dies Irae, and start singing along whenever I re-watch the 1964 film Becket (the one with Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole) because of the sequence's integration into the opening overture.

We also added to the tour-de-force of chants with two of the melismatic verses from the Offertoriale Triplex for the Offertory. After Mass was over, quite a few people came up to thank us for for joining them. There was about double the usual size of the congregation, probably over 200, in attendance. While the acoustics were sub-optimal at best, this was undoubtedly the schola's best turnout since I established it last year. Fr Klein treated us to an excellent luncheon afterward. My own parish, meanwhile, confirmed and received a number of folks into the Church. It's easy to get demoralized by all the news emanating from the world and even from wayward prelates, so I describe all these glad tidings to remind my readers that the work of evangelization still continues apace.

Whitsuntide

One of the most infamous stories of the chaos following Vatican II is the one Father Z first told on his blog years ago:
You probably know that in the traditional Roman liturgical calendar the mighty feast of Pentecost had its own Octave.  Pentecost was/is a grand affair indeed, liturgically speaking.  It has a proper Communicantes and Hanc igitur, an Octave, a Sequence, etc. In some places in the world such as Germany and Austria Pentecost Monday, Whit Monday as the English call it, was a reason to have a civil holiday, as well as a religious observance. 
The Novus Ordo went into force with Advent in 1969. 
The Monday after Pentecost in 1970, His Holiness Pope Paul VI went to the chapel for Holy Mass. Instead of the red vestments, for the Octave everyone knows follows Pentecost, there were laid out for him vestments of green. 
Paul queried the MC assigned for that day, “What on earth are these for?  This is the Octave of Pentecost!  Where are the red vestments?” 
Santità,” quoth the MC, “this is now Tempus ‘per annum’.  It is green, now. The Octave of Pentecost was abolished.” 
“Green? That cannot be!”, said the Pope, “Who did that?” 
“Holiness, you did.” 
And Paul VI wept.
The "feast of the Lacrimation of Paul VI" is renewed annually when diocesan priests who celebrate the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays return to their regular parish duties the next day to don green vestments for "Ordinary Time" in the Ordinary Form. Until the great restoration takes place, the best advice I can give to priests celebrating the Ordinary Form is to trade those greens for red by offering a votive Mass of the Holy Ghost every weekday of Whitsun Week.

Thankfully, the Ordinariate's Missal has restored the octave of Pentecost, so every day at my parish this week has been red. The Ordinariate likewise observes the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week as "ember days": one of the four times of the year which the Church, since medieval times, reserved for fasting, prayer, and (on Saturday) the ordination of clergy. We then reckon the Sundays for the rest of the year as Sundays after Trinity, aka Trinitytide.

I hope all my readers are inspired to continue the celebration of Whitsun through the octave!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

D-Day: "our united crusade"

Colorized  photo courtesy of Marina Amaral
For the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion yesterday, I repost the following presidential address which was made on the night of June 6, 1944. It's hard to believe words like these could be convincingly broadcast by any major western leader today. Let this be our prayer, to find the same stoutness of heart and be granted "faith in our united crusade" against the terrors of the enemy.

----------

"My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.


For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.


Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.


With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944

Mass is celebrated atop the hood of a military vehicle on Omaha beach, following the successful invasion

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Corpus Christi: a medieval feast for modern man



Today we enter into the month of June: the month of the Holy Eucharist. The medieval Church might not have gotten everything right, but one thing they excelled at beyond all human measure was devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. To read any secular historian's account of how the feast of Corpus Christi came into existence, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was all centered around a quaint belief system not seen for hundreds of years. And yet, despite the passage of time, nothing has changed. The Catholic Church, whether in the 13th or the 21st century, has consistently taught that, at the words of a validly ordained priest, mere bread and wine are transformed into the incarnate God: Jesus, not symbolically, but truly present in our midst to be worshiped and consumed. 

At the height of the Middle Ages in the west, adoration of the Eucharistic Lord--not the reception of Communion--was the climax of the liturgy for the average layperson. The faithful, called to attention by the ringing of the Sanctus bells, would jostle each other for a glimpse of the Host raised up by the priest over his head at the elevations. As told by Eamon Duffy in The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, zealous parishioners might not leave until they had satisfactorily gazed upon the Lord, shouting across the nave, "raise it higher, sir priest! Raise it higher!" 


No one did more to foster a devotion to Christ's real presence in these crucial centuries than Saint Norbert of Xanten: founder of the Praemonstratensian Order. Four hundred years before the Protestant Reformation, a wandering preacher known as Tanchelm had caused many people in the city of Antwerp to deny the saving power of the Eucharist and the authority of the bishop. St Norbert was invited by Bishop Burchard of Cambrai to take a few trusted disciples with him into the city and bring it back to the orthodox faith: a feat he accomplished with both gentleness of heart and zeal in preaching. He said to the people, 
“Brothers, do not be surprised and do not be afraid. Unwittingly you have pursued falsehood thinking it to be the truth. If you had been taught the truth first you would have been found effortlessly tending toward salvation, just as you now effortlessly lean toward perdition.”
Focusing on Christ's discourse on the "bread of life" in John 6, Norbert reconciled the city to the Church and was thereafter known as the Apostle of Antwerp. For teaching clergy and laity alike to reverently care for the altar cloths and handling of the Sacred Species wherever he went, even bringing the Blessed Sacrament away from the church to the battlefield, making Christ the instrument of peace between warring clans, Norbert became known as the Apostle of the Eucharist. 

A young woman soon picked up where Norbert left off to take the medieval Church's Eucharistic devotion to its apex. Saint Juliana of Liège, a Norbertine canoness, reported having a vision of a full moon, shining brightly but marred by a dark line across its surface. She understood the moon to represent the Church on earth, reflecting the light of Christ's glory. The dark line was a void in the Church's myriad cycle of celebrations: a lack of a day dedicated to the Lord's real presence in the Eucharist. Until then, Maundy Thursday was the only day to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist (at the Last Supper), but it was inevitably shadowed by the gloom of Good Friday. St Juliana petitioned her bishop to declare a feast for the Body and Blood of Christ within the diocese--which he did, though he died before he could act on it.

A splendid illustration of St Juliana by Daniel Mitsui
St Juliana died in 1258, before the feast of Corpus Christi could take root outside her city. Shortly thereafter, though, the former archdeacon of Liège was elected Pope Urban IV. Juliana's surviving friend petitioned the Pope to institute a feast according to Juliana's plan. This he did, well beyond what St Juliana could have ever dreamed: on the 11th of August, 1264, Urban IV issued the bull Transiturus, proclaiming a feast in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ throughout the entire Latin Church, which we now call Corpus Christi:
"although this memorial Sacrament is frequented in the daily solemnities of the Mass, we nevertheless think suitable and worthy that, at least once a year – especially to confound the lack of faith and the infamy of heretics – a more solemn and honourable memory of this Sacrament be held. This is so because on Holy Thursday, the day on which the Lord himself instituted this Sacrament, the universal Church, occupied with the reconciliation of penitents, blessing the chrism, fulfilling the Commandments about the washing of the feet and many other such things, is not sufficiently free to celebrate so great a Sacrament."
The feast would be marked with Eucharistic processions (still novel at that time) through every city in Christendom on the Thursday after Trinity: Thursday to link the celebration with the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The Angelic Doctor himself, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was commissioned to write an office and several now-famous hymns for the feast. The sight of the Lord enthroned in a monstrance, paraded through the central square with all the magistrates of the city in attendance, naturally captivated the medieval imagination with a fervor we may never see again, giving birth to thousands of local traditions and guilds.

The Protestant Reformation challenged belief in the Real Presence (Luther once preached of Corpus Christi, "at no festival are God and his Christ more blasphemed"), yet for many Catholics in Europe, the sight of Jesus in the Eucharist, borne in procession through the city, was enough to bolster their faith against every threat of war or schism in those turbulent times. At last, in 1582, centuries after his death, Norbert of Xanten was canonized a saint--thanks, I'm sure, in no small part to his defense of the Eucharist.

Today we stand at another fork in the road: will the Church, after losing her prominent place in civic life, retreat behind closed doors to celebrate the sacraments away from unbelieving eyes? Or will she dare to take to the streets once again, holding the Lord for all to adore, even at the risk of jeers, blaring horns, or the eyerolls of apathy?

Wherever you may find yourself this feast of Corpus Christi, dear reader, may we find the same fervor of the Body and Blood of Christ that moved simple peasants to fall to their knees in the mud when the Blessed Sacrament passed them by. May we find the true meaning of the words of Aquinas' hymn, Pange lingua gloriosi, when we sing:
"Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory,
Of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
Of the Blood, all price exceeding,
Shed by our Immortal King,
Destined, for the world's redemption,
From a noble Womb to spring."

The Blessed Sacrament carried through the streets of Manhattan by Bishop Joseph Perry at the 2015 Sacra Liturgia conference. More wonderful photos at this link.
In 2014, my schola of chanters sang the royal praises, Christus vincit, as the Blessed Sacrament was carried under the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol building in Austin. Benediction was unapologetically given under the dome, in the very midst of the state's seat of government.
The Blessed Sacrament in procession following solemn Mass in the traditional Latin rite at the Cathedral-Basilica of Philadelphia last year (2016).

If you're in the Philadelphia area, the Modern Medievalist invites you to join us for our celebration of this marvelous feast this year (2017).


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?