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Greater Philadelphia

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Midday on the first of November I crossed the Delaware River into what I’ll call northern Philadelphia. While my itinerary had visits to just the three cathedrals in Trenton, I figured to see the two cathedrals nearest my upcoming lodgings in North Trevose. So keying in the address in Huntington Valley, I reached the Malankara Orthodox church in about 45 minutes. My journal records that Highway One was in horrible condition.

St Mary’s Cathedral , Huntington Valley

St Mary’s Cathedral was locked. A handsome building faced in multicolored stone with thick white mortar, icicle lighting ran over the entry and across the walkway between the U-shaped structure. Walking around the building looking for an open door or hint of an occupied office, I spotted a red fox sprinting away from the stairs. Without success, I left what looked to be a modern, well-lit space to head southeast.

Bryn Athyn Cathedral, Bryn Athyn

Bryn Athyn Cathedral sits in a campus on manicured rolling hills populated with mature trees. From what I learned both at the site and from its website, the building is about 100 years old, and was constructed without modern equipment, more in the methods described in Pillars of the Earth. Extensive historic research went into all aspects of the structure; the stained-glass in the windows was all hand blown. Signs in the parking lot and in the reception area prohibit photography, but I requested a photo pass and was allowed to take pictures while I was led by Paul through the church on a guided tour.

First stop on the tour is a lovely wooden upright chest which houses the keys to the many doors, each fashioned by hand. Passing the four-console organ coming into the crossing, a look back to the west entrance revealed the design to be both Romanesque and Gothic. The altar table, a wooden box-like table with carvings on the vertical sides, had placards leaning against it, as a grade school program had taken place that morning, teaching youngsters the symbols of Judaism and Christianity.

Symbolism and lettering referred to the Old Testament heritage of the New Church, the Swedenborgian denomination, are found in the floors, walls, grill work and windows. The seat of the bishop with about 50 churches in North America, it met my definition of a cathedral. I was able to notice the references to the stained-glass windows from Chartres and Canterbury, where researchers had studied. Figures from the Bible were identified in Hebrew and Greek, as those books were originally written in those languages. For the windows with geometric designs, a blend of blue with red inserts casts a purple sheen; other windows had designs filled with flowers.

A heavy solid door opened into the library where a model occupied a table surrounded by shelves of books. When I returned to Joy at the reception desk, we all got into a long conversation and they gifted me a copy of their "Bryn Athyn Cathedral: The Building of a Church", a photobook including history and present-day church activities. [Unfortunately, when I mailed it home from Philadelphia (to reduce luggage weight,) the package was opened and contents pilfered, including this book.] Advised to keep my photo pass, I went out and walked around the buildings, enjoying the multiple facets and even finding the original cornerstone. After about a hundred photos, I returned my pass and headed towards my lodgings.

Arriving about 4pm at the Comfort Inn, after dropping my gear in room 315 I headed out for food. At Toscano 52, I enjoyed a Tuscan wedge with blue cheese dressing, followed by Pappardelle Cinghiale (wide ribbon pasta in a Tuscan wild boar meat sauce, featuring accents of onion, wild mushroom and aromatic herbs;) accompanied by a glass of Chianti Castello di Gabbiano. I’d been tucked away in a dark corner, and wait staff was slow: fortunately, the food was good. For dessert a slim slice of cheesecake. I was early to dinner, as I wanted to be sure to be able to drive back before dark.

Day 2 – Philadelphia

After a waffle for breakfast, I was back on the road just after 9am. After the two Pennsylvanian cathedrals the day before, I had 5 sites left on my day’s itinerary. First stop was St Peter’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral.

St Peter’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia

Set back behind an office/residence building on Haldeman Avenue, I approached a cream-colored building with coral and gold highlights and four murals on its south-facing entry. Behind the façade, a rectangular building with a gently sloping peaked roof, and a large paved parking area. Locked, with no one at the building towards the street (and no cars), I moved along.

At some point during the 15 minutes between churches, I had entered a suburban park. Verree Road (SR 1001) runs straight through a sizable dense forest called Pennypack Park. Situated to the right of the turnoff for Redeemer Health Lafayette (a medical services complex), St Stephen Orthodox Cathedral is oriented north-south, with the entry to the north.

St Stephen Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia

Part of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the cathedral is hexagonal with a gold onion dome crowned by a triple cross, barely rising above the nearby forest. The sand-colored roof and walls balanced nicely with the lush green lawn and rioting colors of autumn on the trees. After walking around the church and checking the neighboring home, I reckoned that I’d been to another locked cathedral.

Another quarter hour heading southwest on Oak Lane Road, I T’d into North Fifth Street. Parking at Rite Aid across the street (having entered by going the wrong way up a one-way street), St Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral sits on a corner behind a wrought iron fence.

St Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia

Up 9 pale blue steps, 3 sets of wooden doors were locked under a roof extension and a banner “Pray for Peace in Ukraine!” Rising over the center of the roof was a curious structure, a collection of cones where the points join at the top center, supporting a triple cross. Large mosaic murals bracket the entry. No joy when trying to find an open door, or get an answer to a rung bell.

Nearly half an hour later, after driving past the old location of the Malankara cathedral which is now a Friend’s school, and closer to downtown, I luckily found a street parking spot. I walked to the corner where St Michael Greek Orthodox Cathedral stands.

St Michael Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia

Iron fencing guarded close to the building, and the side sidewalk was under repair. There was even concertina wire! Gold onion domes with triple crosses rose above the four corners, with a dome-capped light near the center of the roof. My fourth Orthodox church of the day, and all had been locked. And I’d been through several social strata as I drove around.

Old St Mary’s Cathedral, Philadelphia

Getting into downtown and the historic district, I had to drive around a bit to find parking so I could visit the former Roman Catholic cathedral. Several blocks away, I returned to Old St Mary’s Cathedral, only to find it also locked! On All Soul’s Day, no less, when priests can say Mass 3 times for the dearly departed. With a blocky pale red brick façade facing east across South Fourth Street, the memorial to John Barry, Father of the US Navy and native of Wexford, Ireland seemed to be closing the loop for my trip, as I’d read of his life while in Europe.

Returning to my parked car, I stopped and looked over the fence at the Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church and Graveyard, noting the numerous medallioned gravesites with the Betsy Ross flag – the SAR (of which I am a life member) and DAR have been diligent decorating patriot’s final resting places. Off to my lodgings, I was intent on dropping my bags before returning the rental. Yet another hotel name change, I found a keypad at the door for the Sonder Hotel The Arco. Parking at the end of a “temporary” dining structure, Expedia had not passed along any instructions or information. Sending my reservation information to the San Francisco headquarters, I found I had to install their app (a process I detest). It looked like it would take more time than I thought I could park illegally, so I returned to the car and headed to the airport.

Expecting to find a (higher priced) gas station to fuel up the car, my route took me directly over several bridges and to the Budget lot. Back out (not wanting to pay $10 per gallon), I found a WaWa and filled the tank. I returned and turned the car in, paying for the 5 days. I called for an Uber and rode back with Rojelio.

I finally heard from Sonder, and was able to get into the building with my gear, but I had to wait in the lounge (all the lockers were filled) until nearly 4pm before the lock to the room was auto-programmed to allow entry. A nice space with plenty of floor space and a large bathroom, I was able to settle in.

Off to the post office where I sent a 7-pound stuffed padded bag off to myself in Florida. My neighbor texted me a box was at the door, so she took it in. The roof inspector for the insurer contacted me, and I set an appointment for after I got back on Saturday. I even got a Powerball ticket for the big drawing. (Yeah, right, throwing money away.) I strolled around the neighborhood checking out dining options.

About 4pm, I found Vintages on 13th Street. They were about to open, so I hung out until the door was unlocked and went and sat at the bar. A narrow space with tables out on the sidewalk, I surveyed the options at the bar, noting the tin ceiling and the wall covered with boards from the ends of wine cases behind me. They tried to get me to use a QR code for the menu, but it doesn’t work for me.

A sampler of 3 reds: ’19 Aglorgitiko from Skouras St George (Greece), ’11 Negroamaro from Copertino (Italy), and ’19 Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Hall (Paso Robles, CA). To munch on, buffalo cauliflower with crumbled blue cheese and a dill ranch sauce. I was able to journal easily for a while, as the light streamed in from the street and the bar didn’t fill. As quitting time neared, lower light and filled stools curtailed my notes. Finishing the samples, I got a glass of the “staff pick”, a Kedungu, a Mourvèdre/cinsault blend out of South Africa. I found it earthy and light; sparkles on the teeth edge – a light sweetness; more acid than tannin.

Hunger calling, I ordered the grilled asparagus, which came with a 6-minute egg, parmesan crisps, hollandaise. Unfortunately, thick spears were bland. Accompaniment: ’19 Jackpot (aragonez and castelao) from Casal do Ramilo, Portugal which was “okay”. A “Vintage burger” (caramelized onions and mushrooms, gruyere, lettuce, garlic aioli, bacon) and crispy fries was dinner, with a pour of ’16 Chateau Haut Valeyrac, a cab-merlot Medoc blend.

The Arco was just down the street. I didn’t need to look up the code to get in to the building or into my room. The windows faced the street, but I wasn’t comfortable using their ear plugs or the white noise machine, so it was a bit before I settled down.

Day 3-Philadelphia

Leaving my lodgings just after 9, I was admiring the large graphics celebrating the arts painted on the building wall over a parking lot. (And dodging the indigent woman barfing on the sidewalk – great way to start the day.) Turning to walk up Walnut Street, I walked along Rittenhouse Square before crossing the Schuylkill River. Strolling across the span I remembered hearing traffic reports calling the Expressway the “Sure Kill”. Continuing, I was soon passing the University of Pennsylvania campus to my left. Reaching the corner of 38th Street, I headed north, walking out into traffic two plus blocks later to begin photographing the brownstone cathedral at the corner of Ludlow.

Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral

Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral has a tall belltower on the street corner, and its pair of red doors are three steps up from the sidewalk. I’d been walking for an hour. Finding an entrance through the adjacent community outreach and office building, and calling staff, I was admitted into the church. In 1992, the Church of the Saviour became the cathedral. Serious (controversial) renovations took place twenty years ago, removing pews, altar and other traditional features (and sold.) The nave now has a square table at its center. There is one Tiffany Studios window, among many lovely stained-glass art, but my favorite was of clear blown glass, circles. The mural in the dome of the apse radiates the gold foil in halos and wisps of clouds. The baptismal font includes a full immersion pool. Halogen-like lights hang as a spray of mini-suns, keeping the space bright.

Back out on the street an hour later, I continued to Market and turned back towards the river and downtown through the Drexel Institute campus. A cool dragon sculpture curled in the sun. Banners flapped on poles for the Phillies in the World Series, the soccer playoffs with the Union, NFL Eagles and NHL Flyers in active seasons. Almost two miles later, after turning north on 18th Street, I approached Logan Square, which is actually a rotary.

Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul , Philadelphia

The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is a large red stone building with a copper dome at the crossing, on the south side of the square and opening to the west. With four thick ribbed columns supporting the central portico, there are pairs of smaller at each front corner. Entering, the dome is also a lantern, admitting the day’s brilliant sunlight. Romanesque arches support the beautiful coffered ceiling. Side chapels, including the closed gated baptismal font, line the side walls.

Dark marble columns support an understated baldachin over the altar table, with the older high altar behind in the apse. To the rear, the organ pipes are organized to resemble columns in the loft over the entry. Below a modern mural depicting John Barry and Pope Pius VI is the crypt of Katherine Drexel. After visiting the crypt below the altar, I joined others in the contemplation chapel for Mass. (No photos)

Heading down Race Street to Broad so that I could pass by City Hall and the Convention Center (with Hard Rock Café on its corner), I turned on Eighth Street.

Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, Philadelphia

With six white Doric columns supporting the flags-bearing portico, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George faces east behind an intricate iron fence. While it was closed, I spoke with a worker parked in the lot alongside, who walked to the office door and convinced the woman there to allow me five minutes to take pictures inside!

A balcony rings the sides and rear, with large paintings and square windows above the nave floor. Dark wooden pews process to the iconostasis, a wall of eight portraits in panels of Romanesque arches supported by short gold columns. Thanking the pair, I headed north to my fourth destination for the day.

Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Philadelphia

Another mile and a half along Eight Street, I came to the rear (west) side of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, viewing the outside of the apse as it projected from the gold dome over the octagonal church. Finding a break in the iron fence topping a short stone wall, I walked past the manse and came around to the entrance of (and parking for) the cathedral. Reflecting the apse to the west, to the east is a larger arched addition which forms a narthex.

Coming inside, a gold-ribbed turquoise dome rests above many small clerestory-like stained-glass windows. Pews face west towards the iconostasis gating the front of the apse. Gilded, loaded with icon portraits, a mosaic of the Virgin Mary fills the back wall. As I was preparing to leave, a nun asked of my interest, and we wound up spending a half hour discussing theology and faith, with her finally sending me off to the Church of St Peter the Apostle, which is also the Shrine of St John Neumann.

The shrine is actually located in the crypt. With probably 12-foot ceilings, square white and circular red columns lead to the altar table which is also the glass-sided tomb of the bishop. Returning to reception, the young woman asked if I’d like to see the upper church. Accessible only by elevator midweek, cool colors and a stunning coffered ceiling highlight this parish church.

St Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia

From the shrine I headed south on North Fifth Street to reach St Andrew’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. With four triple gold crosses rising above onion domes and minarets, the stone-faced building, is squeezed between its neighbor, and was closed.

As I headed back to the room, three pieces of public art caught my eye. A coral, turquoise and blue floral near-surrealistic design covered a four-story building on the corner. On a high-rise, a sand hill crane winged in front of a red disc. Finally, a sculpture of multiple figures supported a short walkway between buildings left me puzzled, but in a good way. Stopping at a Shake Shack for a chicken burger and a shake so I could take my morning “meds”, I continued my way.

Back in my room, I journaled a note that I felt I had walked my feet off in the over seven hours I’d explored Philadelphia. After an hour horizontal I headed out to get OJ and bananas. Needing internet connectivity, which was then lacking in the AirB&B, I headed out to find something Italian for dinner.

At Little Nonna, I enjoyed a Barbera d’Asti from Povero Piedmonte. Two dishes for dinner: rigatoni alla vodka (ground garlic sausage, local greens, buffalo mozzarella, crisp prosciutto) and Sunday gravy (slowly braised beef shortrib, beef-veal-pork meatball, garlic sausage and broccoli rabe in a 4-hour San Marzano pork marinara.) The restaurant was dark, and I was seated down a dark hallway into a garden. (This was in back of the building I stayed in.) A group along the opposite wall started at 8 co-workers, but by the time I left was double that. The wine was good, the rabe fine! I had to send the bowtie pasta back as it was served cool. The short rib was inedible, with too much fat; the meatball was delicious, the sausage chewy.

Back in the room, the internet had returned. Reviewing my itinerary, I noted I had skipped (not photographed) the old Malankara cathedral site, and decided that trying to get 8.5 miles away by metro for what is now a Friend’s school. My Friday was unplanned, so I checked how I might cross the Delaware to visit the cathedral and pro-cathedral in Camden. A subway ride and short bus run looked possible. I went to sleep as the city faced another loss by the Phillies, sending the Series back to Houston.

Day 4 – Camden and Philadelphia

Across Locust Street from The Arco is a subway entrance, which I used to take the train across the Ben Franklin Bridge to Camden. Arriving on the east side of the Delaware River, I found a #407 bus which took me up Federal Street in a low fog. Behind a black iron fence, the blocky brick building has a bell tower topped by a golden cross at its southwest corner.

St Joseph Pro-Cathedral, Camden

With panes of glass in tall windows running down the east and west sides of the nave, I was unsure what to expect. Walking around the building, I found a handicapped ramp entry being used by the cleaning crew; it brought me inside to the east of the altar and sanctuary. A crucifix looms over the tabernacle in a shallow recess, with a mural of angels outside the framing arch. Those plain windows I’d seen from outside were filled with modern blue-and-gold checkerboards and images of historic church leaders. The south wall, the entry from Federal Street, is red brick, with a Risen Christ depicted on a background of small gold crosses.

The Stations, wooden carvings set in large Romanesque arch frames, run around the nave walls. National flags protrude on poles above them. The high ceiling of St Joseph Pro-Cathedral, lit by bright chandeliers, is airy and light, but feels boxy in a 60’s way of a converted gymnasium.

There was a short wait for the return bus, so I walked across the street to get another Powerball ticket, as the prize was approaching a billion dollars. The bus took me back downtown, with the low fog still blurring the taller buildings. I found the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception but it was closed. I checked at the parish office, and was told I had a 40-minute wait until the church would be opened for midday Mass. I strolled around, passing the massive WPA-era City Hall, court buildings, parts of Rutgers-Camden. When I tried to get front pictures of the cathedral front, vagrants were lounging, drinking coffee and smoking; the fog-haze persisted, so I hoped for better when Mass ended.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden

Located at the southeast junction of Market and North Broadway, a single belltower with a spire is on the northwest corner. A small vestibule houses the paired red doors for formal entry, but they were closed and access was through the door to the side parking lot and Cathedral Hall. A narrow loft runs along the back wall, with the organ and pipes displayed below a rose window. Neo-Gothic, the cream-colored columns and arches support a white vault with dark wooden support beams. Between dark wooden pews, a polished marble central aisle leads to the sanctuary, two side altars with blue backgrounds bracketing the apse lined with rose and green marble.

Mass on the feast of St Charles Borromeo was brief, bi-lingual, and attended by about 40. The altar, again that green marble, had chrysanthemums and gourds around its base. The stained-glass window in the apse had five panels featuring Saints Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist, Joseph and the Mary in her role as the Immaculate Conception. Other windows depicted biblical scenes, with the clerestory windows portraying various saints. More interesting to me was the window sponsored by the Knights of Columbus which depicted the landing of Columbus. When I left, the sun had burned off the fog, allowing me to get some nice shots.

Walking back to the transit center, I began contemplating my afternoon. I’d seen the names of towns nearby, destinations for local buses, which recalled college friends (including my girlfriend sophomore year) who had hailed from one of the nearby towns. Looking up a few, I was surprised to find most were dead! With no one to call, I headed onto the subway and returned to Philadelphia reminded of my mortality. Looking for a late lunch, thinking pizza, I eventually wound up at Locust Rendezvous, up the street from my lodgings. Journaling the trip across the river, I enjoyed a Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA. Comfort food called, and Mom’s Meatloaf Platter, with gravy, mashed and broccoli proved to be my last meal out on the trip.

Back to the room after about an hour of window shopping, I settled in to backing up my photos and pouring through the accumulated emails. Finishing off the food in the mini-fridge, I stayed in, packing for the return home. In bed by 10, the neighborhood stayed noisy past 3.

Day 5 Home

Up at 5, I was downstairs on the street in half an hour, and my scheduled Uber driver arrived early. While I’d originally booked a late morning flight with award miles, American had rearranged my day to a crack-of-dawn flight. The agent checking me in must have had a bad night, as I couldn’t get her to smile, and she charged me the $100 for being 6 pounds over limit. Quite a wander at Philadelphia International, I was cold in the waiting area for about an hour. We boarded at 7:52, pushed back at 8:30 and lifted off at 8:52 for the 8:22 flight.

Down on time in Punta Gorda, there was a bit of a wait for luggage to arrive despite my sitting in the rear and strolling to the carousel. Nancy was there to pick me up, and an hour later I was home, opening up the house and surveying the damage from Hurricane Ian. And very glad to be back!


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