Church of the Advocate
Photos: Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS PA-6672], memory.loc.gov; photographer not listed.
The Church of the Advocate (18th and Diamond Streets) is a National Historic Landmark. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document: Glassman, Susan, and Pitts, Carolyn, Church of the Advocate, George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Memorial Church of the Advocate, designed and built by Charles M. Burns, is a picturesquely composed complex of buildings at the northwest corner of Eighteenth and Diamond Streets, comprising a parish house, chapel, baptistery and the church proper. Designed to suggest a medieval compound, the buildings are grouped about a central cloister and are visually connected by their Gothic detail and ornament and the common materials of rock faced granite with sandstone and limestone dressings. Most strikingly, the buildings are oriented not with respect to the nominal east-west of the Philadelphia street grid, but according to true east. The centerpiece of the complex is the church, whose form is closely based on that of a thirteenth-century French Gothic basilica, with a three-aisle nave, quadripartite vaults, a semicircular apse and ambulatory, transepts, a narthex and a complete apparatus of flying buttresses. The most remarkable feature of the church is the scrupulous historic fidelity of its details.
The character of the building is massive and robust; its effect deriving not so much from a profusion of ornament as from the arrangement of a few large masses and forms. This sense of massiveness is in part the result of the granite construction. On the north and south walls, the white limestone trim is restricted to the water table, buttress offsets, arch voissoirs, and the carved crockets of the window archivolts. Each side elevation is dominated by a simple transept, marked by tall lancet windows. Supporting the transept and the raised nave walls are heavy flying buttresses set between the bays of the church.
The chief feature of architectural interest on the exterior is the semi-circular apse, whose vigorously profiled corona of flying buttresses reaches the intersection of Eighteenth and Diamond Streets at a dramatic raking angle. Here the architectural sculpture is further enriched by figural crockets that terminate the archivolts of the clerestory and aisle windows. Crowning the apse, and placed directly above the altar, is a copper figure of Gabriel blowing his trumpet. (The metal fleche, or spire, of the crossing has since been lost.) The standing seam metal roof was originally copper but was replaced with terne-coated stainless steel similar to the original roof about ten years ago.
The western facade consists of a polygonal narthex which projects from the body of the church and which is surmounted by the great rose window. No tower compromises the clear expression of nave and aisles. The unfinished tower had been intended to be a free standing spire near the southeast corner of the lot. Together with the octagonal baptistery to the south, the entrance provides a picturesquely arranged group of polygonal forms. Some of the richest carving of the church is lavished on the entrance portals, particularly the figural crockets of archivolts. Here are some of the more striking grotesques of the building including one medieval figure with thick glasses, placed to the right of the portal. The red doors are handsome and are trimmed with wrought iron hinges and strapwork of florid design.
Far from being a timid or inadequate copy, the church superbly demonstrates the eclectic and synthetic approach to Ecclesiological design, in which stylistic sources from numerous periods were used in accordance with modern functional requirements. For example, in order to mediate between the street and the angled nave of the church, the narthex projects as a three-sided polygon imitating the form of St. Ouen of Rouen, which permitted a better alignment with the street. Likewise, the towerless entrance invited a monumental treatment of the western facade, which suggested the use of a great rose window. Here, the finest prototypes were not from the thirteenth century of the nave but rather from the more exuberant fifteenth century with the florid tracery of the rayonnant style.
The interior of the church is virtually a single vessel of space, consisting of a central nave of four bays, which is screened from the lower flanking aisles by three pairs of slender piers. Four larger piers mark the transept crossing, which is as wide as the nave. This serves to emphasizes the breadth of the church rather than the length, a departure from French Gothic prototypes that is characteristic of Burns' subtle manipulation of his historic sources. Unlike medieval worship, with its emphasis on processional movement and on the liturgy, nineteenth-century Episcopal worship in America emphasized preaching and insisted on clear lines of sight and sound. Toward this end, Burns shortened his nave and broadened his transepts, creating a much more centralized preaching space than that of his medieval models.
At the eastern end is the semicircular apse, which consists of nine sides of a sixteen-sided polygon. A narrow ambulatory, half the width of the aisles, circumscribes the chancel. Screened from the nave by a low stone railing, the chancel is generously ornamented, including a carved Gothic reredos of limestone and wooden choir stalls. The carved lectern is especially noteworthy, presenting a complex allegory showing a cowled saint reading a book between two cowled saints wielding double-edged swords and surrounded by the lion, ox, eagle and angel of the four evangelists. In front of the chancel, at the base of the northeastern crossing pier, is the carved pulpit. It is approached by a flight of stone steps and ornamented with Gothic tracery and sculpted figures representing events or people in the history of the church, including Saint Augustine, the Venerable Bede and Bishop William White, the first bishop in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Directly beneath the chancel, and replicating its semi-circular form, is the crypt, which was intended by the donors to serve as the burying place for the bishops of Pennsylvania.
The nave elevation consists of a high arcade, a shallow triforium, and a high clerestory, all three elements drawn together by the continuous piers that divide the bays. They show a degree of sophistication and creativity rare in American Gothic architecture. While they stylistically draw on the French cathedrals of the High Gothic, the nave wall is an original creation, an unusual synthesis freely based on several French models. The distinctive rhythm of juxtaposing a trio of clerestory windows above four lancet windows in the triforium recalls the Thirteenth-century Collegiate Church at St. Quentin. Here too is the source for the central roof rib which is not French in style, surely added to counteract the rather short proportions of the nave. On the other hand, the odd form of the pier, made of clustered shafts whose central rib rises without interruption from plinth to the capital at the springing of the vaults, suggests the Cathedral of Troyes, or the Abbey Church of St. Denis, likewise works of the thirteenth century. Finally, the nave vaults spring, not from high in the clerestory as is typical of the High Gothic, but at the top of the triforium, as they do in such transitional Early Gothic as Saint-Etienne of Caen (begun 1200).
Like the nave walls, the west elevation is also divided into three, although it is somewhat different in character. Above the three entrance arches is a triforium, consisting of paired openings grouped beneath pointed relieving arches, a common thirteenth century Gothic form. Above this is the great rayonnant window, taking up virtually the entire space of the western wall with its curvilinear tracery and flame-like arrangement of mullions.
The sculptural program of the interior is distinctive and of very high quality. This carving comprises all three of the principal kinds of Gothic sculpture, figural, floral and geometric. The figural program is exceptionally elaborate, consisting of carved busts of saints and apostles, as well as portraits of people connected with the church. Among the most significant of these are the carved capitals of the nave piers along the south side. The nave capital at the southwest pier of the crossing is devoted to a memorial to Mrs. More consisting of a portrait on a frame carried by two angels. The next pier bears the carved head of George W. South, the namesake of the church. Following a conventionalized angel, the fourth pier capital displays a bust of Richard Y. Cook, the inveterate head of building committee. While these donors and supporters of the church occupied pride of place in the nave capitals, the designers and builders are honored, unseen, in the ambulatory. There the carved figural capitals depict the architect, the contractor, the builder, the sculptor, the foreman and Rev. Silvester, the first rector.
Other carving is distributed throughout the church, generally connected to the function of the part of the building. Flanking the north entrance is a figural group, late Gothic in style, showing St. George and the dragon, alluding to the English origin of the South family. The allegory is even more explicit in the fine carving of the baptistery, which depicts images of birth and infancy. The chief work shows three heads of cherubs, peeking from behind the wings of angels, while a belt course enframes the room with a continuous frieze of cherubs with crossed wings. At the center of the room is a massive octagonal font which was designed by Field and Medary and executed by Robert D. Kelly a few years after the dedication of the church. In general, the carving displays an exceptionally high degree of realism and is drawn from Late Gothic precedent, rather than the somewhat dematerialized forms of Early Gothic sculpture. Once again Burns borrowed judiciously from the period and examples that offered the best application to the task at hand.
Cherub heads also mark the west wall, most astonishingly in a frieze of thirty-six carved heads below the triforium. Otherwise, much of the other detail consists of floral carving. In the nave piers, this is concentrated in the plinths, arcade capitals, and shaft capitals. This is thirteenth and fourteenth century in character, chiefly consisting of naturalistic leafy foliage rather than stylized forms. Between these leafy forms are also unexpected vignettes depicting grotesques and gargoyles. A frieze of foliage, Late Gothic in character, marks the base of the aisle windows. Despite the latitude given to the carvers, Burns remained closely involved in the approval of carved motifs. His scrupulous oversight maintained the quality and coherence of the omposition.
Finally, the geometric carving of the tracery is High Gothic, with its proliferation of trefoils and cusped arches. The moldings are likewise executed with considerable undercutting and are crisply profiled, based generally on the French cathedrals of the early thirteenth century, including Amiens and Reims. The masterpiece of tracery, however, is the massive rayonnant window of the west elevation, where the sculptural program most vividly meets the stained glass work of Clayton & Bell.
The complete stained glass program provided by the English firm of Clayton & Bell is one of the more extraordinary features of the church. It is rare in American churches to have the stained glass provided by one designer, especially a European source. But the glazing was one of Richard Cook's highest priorities and he personally selected the firm to avoid having the glass "mar" the design that had been so carefully developed.
The great rose window that dominates the west wall represents the text "I am the Vine." Branches radiant from the figure of the Lord at the center to create a hierarchical ordering of figures from ecclesiastical history. A handsome Jesse window is located at the west end of the north aisle and memorial windows occupy the transcepts. In addition to the thirty-six figural windows, Clayton & Bell also provided thirty-one simpler windows which harmonized with the design. Cook planned to gradually replace these but never did; thus, the building retains the original program installed by Clayton & Bell in 1897.
The stained glass of the Church is typical of the firm's work of the period. Inspired by thirteenth and fourteenth century models, their work is distinguished from other work of the period that drew on more eclectic sources. Figures, executed in a strong palette of red, blue and white, are framed by canopy-work which echoes the architectural details of the church. The subtle application of silver stain creates a cool light that diffuses through the interior.
Adjoining the chancel and tucked in to the reentrant angle at the northeast of the crossing is the two-story vestry. Each of its rooms are provided with a corner fireplace of carved stone. To the east of this is the sacristy which terminates to the east in a polygon. Significant features include the oak beams of the ceiling with their carved floral ornament.
The church itself is largely unchanged since its date of completion, retaining even the original furnishings and fittings which remain in use for religious services. The only significant change is the addition of a series of fourteen large scale mural paintings undertaken by two local artists, Richard Watson and Walter Edmunds, between 1973 and 1976. Mounted on individual panels below the windows along the aisles and in the transepts, these depict vignettes of the black experience in America, including slavery, emancipation, and scenes from the Civil Rights Movement. These are in the form of a traditional biblical cycle beginning with the Garden of Eden and ending with a vision of the Apocalypse. Executed in an intense, expressionistic style that looks back to both the Harlem Renaissance and the social realism of American art in the 1930s, the work is notable for creating a powerful visual expression of the church's contemporary religious and social mission.
The chapel consisted of a rectangular nave with a projecting chancel to the east. It has been demolished to its nave walls and to the base of the rose window. Like the rest of the complex, it is constructed of rock-faced granite from the Port Deposit quarries of Maryland, with trim of reddish Beaver County sandstone. The covered stone arcade, located on the south side of the chapel, has nine openings defined by a low wall on which stand small columns with intricate capitals that terminate in nicely proportioned Gothic arches. Most notable is the carving of the foliated capitals of the narthex arcade.
The parish house is a two-story building, now missing the gabled roof which originally provided an additional story. Also constructed of Port Deposit granite, the building is simply treated except for its southern facade. Here, the interior stair is clearly expressed in the diagonal sweep of four Gothic arches rising to a turreted corner tower--a striking example of the Gothic Revival doctrine of using the interior arrangement of space to dictate the external form. Likewise the east and west sides of the building clearly expressed its original function as a Sunday School building, the seven first-story Sunday School rooms marked by pairs of segmentally arched windows.
The parish house is the most heavily used of the buildings, housing services during the winter months when the church is not used, as well as all of the parish's other religious, community service, and office functions. It has been altered inside with contemporary partitions and finishes to serve these new uses but much of the original design can be seen.
Completing the complex are a rectory and curacy located along the northern boundary of the site. The rectory, facing east on 18th Street, is the more ornate of the two buildings with a brownstone and brick facade that continues the Gothic vocabulary of the complex through the use of pointed openings and Gothic details. The curacy, a more modest brick building which fronts on Gratz Street, is enlivened by courses of fired brick headers and rusticated brownstone trim. The siting, plan, and materials of the pair express their more secular functions and provide a transition from the stone cloister to the residential rows that extend to the north. (The curacy does not contribute to the significance of the property.)
The Church of the Advocate complex is a remarkable document of the Gothic Revival in America. Although it has lost the roof and interior of the chapel, the cloistered complex and the church itself survive with very little alteration. The church retains not only its full stained glass program by the important English firm of Clayton & Bell, but the original furnishings for the services. Its function as a community anchor and social service provider echo the work of its medieval antecedents which it resembles not only architecturally but in spirit.
The George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate (1887-1897) is a landmark in the religious, social and architectural history of the United States. Built as a private bequest and intended to serve as the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia, the church is a major monument in the American Gothic Revival. No other American church has so complete a repertoire of the canonical elements of Gothic Revival architecture: complete programs of architectural sculpture and stained glass, a full apparatus of flying buttresses, and an orientation of the church to true east. The socially-conscious goals of its founders, who specified that the church should be "free for all time", continued into the twentieth century as the church became a provider of extensive social services and a center of activism for the Civil Rights movement embracing the cause of both African-American and women's rights. It was the site of several nationally significant events of the movement, including the Third Annual National Conference on Black Power in 1968, the 1970 Black Panther conference to rewrite the constitution and the first ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in 1974. Not only did the church host these events, but a vast cycle of wall murals records the way stations of the Civil Rights movement. As in a medieval church, whose art served to illustrate and reinforce the liturgical message, these modern murals addressed the contemporary concerns of 1960s and 70s congregations. Together, the medieval revival presentation of the building and the modern murals document the critical social role played by America's inner city churches from the late nineteenth century to the present.
The Church of the Advocate owes it existence to the greatest single act of religious philanthropy in the history of Philadelphia. Built as a memorial to the merchant and civic leader George W. South, the church was the centerpiece of a sprawling complex including a chapel, parish house, baptistery and rectory. The church quickly became famous and already by 1889, when only a fragment had been built, it was honored in King's Handbook of Episcopalian Churches, a register of the most prominent Episcopal buildings in the country, as one of the country's "noblest of Church-extension projects."
George W. South (1799-1884) was a prominent Philadelphia businessman who prospered as a commission agent and whose clients included such luminaries as President Andrew Jackson. After his death in 1884, his widow, Rachel A. South, and daughter, Harriet Louisa More, determined to erect and endow a church in his memory. They confided this wish to their financial advisor, Richard Y. Cook, who was executor of South's will and manager of the substantial estate. Although South was a Presbyterian, the Episcopal church — more socially prominent in Philadelphia — was made the beneficiary of the bequest. Eager to commemorate their late husband and father, but anxious to build where there was the greatest need for a church, the two women determined that the rapidly developing districts of North Philadelphia were most in need of missionary activity. Here was then unfolding the great post-Civil War boom of industrialization which made Philadelphia — particularly its northern factory neighborhoods — one of the centers of American industry. The group selected the site of an old mansion in the heart of this neighborhood, purchasing a lot measuring 173 by 222 feet at the northeast corner of Diamond and Eighteenth Streets. In November 1886, the property was conveyed to a Board of Trustees and the Diamond Street Mission was formally established. The following winter they planned the building campaign with their architect, Charles Burns, and Cook who had been appointed head of the building committee. On February 7, 1887 the Board signed a contract with Burns, and committed themselves to what would be a building program of nearly fifteen years.
Charles M. Burns, Jr. (1838-1922), architect, painter and teacher, was the chief designer of Episcopalian churches in Philadelphia from the close of the Civil War to the turn of the century. Burns' work represented the flowering of the Gothic Revival in Philadelphia, a nationally important center of American architectural thought in the nineteenth century. The son of a Philadelphia merchant, Burns studied at the University of Pennsylvania from 1856 to 1859 and was the first architect to emerge from that school. His architectural training was at the hands of John Gries, a prominent Philadelphia architect, and F.C. Withers, the well-known Gothic revivalist and designer of the Jefferson Market Courthouse in New York. Burns served in the Union Navy during the Civil War, acting as paymaster to Admiral David Farragut and seeing action at the battle of Mobile Bay. After the war, he worked extensively for the Pennsylvania Railroad, but by 1868 he had begun the practice of ecclesiastical design that was the mainstay of his career for the next half century. Burns' practice extended throughout the country, designing such major structures as the Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr (1877-1881); Christ Church Cathedral, Salina, Kansas (1882-1906); Calvary Church, Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and well over 50 other churches and chapels. At the same time, Burns was an influential art educator. Beginning in 1879, he taught Theory and Practice in Freehand Drawing and Design at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, and he simultaneously served as an instructor in drawing at Haverford College (1881-1885). His most famous pupil was the famous illustrator Joseph Pennell, who also published a small book about Burns.
Burns' selection as architect of the Church of the Advocate reflects the extraordinary architectural sophistication of the head of its building committee, Richard Cook. A successful financier and close family friend, Cook had been appointed by George South to manage his estate for his wife and daughter. When the women determined to build the memorial church, they turned to Cook to handle the finances. While Mrs. South and her daughter provided the funding, Cook set the ecclesiastical program and increasingly became the primary maker of architectural decisions. The parish's first rector, Rev. W.W. Silvester, was recruited by Cook with a letter that defined the doctrine and liturgy of the new parish. Silvester had been chosen for his doctrinal leanings and Cook lured him away from a competing offer by a congregation in Wilmington, Delaware by promising "a parish of neither low nor Ritualistic Churchmanship... firmly grounded in opposition to Ritualistic teachings and practices... kept in the Broad road between the two extremes of Churchmanship...." Cook's views on church ritual and dogma were matched by an equally developed understanding of Gothic Revival architecture as the means to express ecclesiastical values. His taste and ideas had been deepened by study trips to Europe which now formed the basis for his selection of an appropriate architect and style for the Advocate Church. It was Cook's aim to build not only a new parish church for the city, but a cathedral church where the bishops of the Diocese of Pennsylvania might be suitably interred. Burns, who had recently designed Cook's country house and was completing substantial alterations to St. Stephen's Church in Wilkes Barre for the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, was the logical choice for this ambitious undertaking.
Burns was hired on February 7, 1887, and immediately set about making plans for the chapel and parish house. These buildings were placed along the northeastern and northwestern ends of the site, respectively, leaving the greater portion of the lot open for the church proper, which would be built after the congregation was established. The cornerstone for the chapel was laid on May 30, 1887; it was consecrated exactly one year later. Constructed of rock-faced granite from the Port Deposit quarries of Maryland, the chapel was trimmed with reddish sandstone from Beaver County with the characteristic hammer-dressed surface so popular in late nineteenth-century American architecture. In form, the chapel was a simple rectangular volume under a steep gabled roof with a simple projection to the east for the chancel; the interior was a single unpartitioned space capped by an open hammer-beam wood truss, carried on stone corbels. Apart from the rose window and arcaded narthex, the chapel was simple in treatment, demonstrating its subordination to the main church. The chapel was demolished to the outer walls in the early 1980s.
The parish house was completed in 1887. This was a three-story building under a high-pitched gable roof with a turreted stair tower to the southeast. The first floor comprised seven Sunday School classrooms, divided by moveable partitions so that the rooms might be opened up for common lessons, with a total capacity of six hundred. The second story was occupied by a single large meeting hall, seating five hundred, while the upper story was designated as a gym. A fire on February 22, 1895 caused considerable damage to the building and it was rebuilt the following year with improvements for the growing parish.
During this period, Burns also completed a house for the rector to the north of the chapel. This building was not integrated into the cloistered ensemble of church, chapel and parish house, but forms the end of a rowhouse block that runs north. Burns differentiated this domestic structure from the main religious buildings by the use of red brick and sandstone which connects it visually to the color and style of the neighboring rowhouses. However, the pointed arches over the door and windows and its conical turret form a transition from the brick rowhouses to the church complex.
For the next three years, Burns worked on his plans for the church building, not completing them until June 1890 (although he had announced earlier that "the hint for the design is the Cathedral of Amiens.") The design was a vast essay in the French Gothic, a style little used in America where the English Gothic Revival was the principal source of inspiration. This reflected Burns' conviction that the French Gothic surpassed the English in its quality of detail and refinement of moldings. Just as Burns lavished years on the design, now years were to be lavished on the construction. Guided by Cook, who had become the arbiter of architectural style for the South women, the church was built in a series of discrete annual campaigns. This slow and deliberate pace of work permitted an unusually high degree of refinement and study of detail in the design. Rarely are architects in a position to devote most of their creative energy to a single design for any prolonged period. But the scale of the Advocate and Burns' own determination that it be his masterpiece ensured an almost single-minded concentration on this one project. Burns repeatedly exhibited his drawings of the church, in particular at the prestigious annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Contracts were awarded for the tower foundations in June of 1890; the following year foundations for the church itself were laid. Another year passed before construction of the superstructure began; $68,130 was allocated in May 1892 to raise the church to the height of the aisle roof but the work was not finished until 1894. Financial considerations contributed to the delays in progress and ultimately resulted in several significant changes from the original conception. The slowdown coincided with a national economic downturn in 1893 that surely affected the funds invested for the building. In his annual speech at the choir dinner, Cook noted "much criticism has reached me... impatient of delay, dubious as to final results, and boldly critical of financial management." The detached tower that Burns had proposed for the corner of the site was first postponed and then abandoned in 1894, although its foundations were laid. Most serious was the decision to postpone the vaulting in stone of the ceiling. In 1896 it was elected to build temporary vaults of wood and plaster, which would be replaced with stone vaults when circumstances permitted. In the end, this reduction in the purity of the design caused a rift between Cook and Burns.
The contractor for all phases of the construction was the prominent Philadelphia building firm of Arthur H. Williams and Son. The masonry they used was of the highest order, maintaining the vigorously rusticated Port Deposit granite of the original buildings, and replacing the sandstone of the first phase¥which had visibly deteriorated in the intervening years¥with Indiana limestone. The effect was to make the interior of the building more monochrome in character, emphasizing its French rather than English Gothic sources.
Another Philadelphia firm, J. Franklin Whitman & Co., was contracted to execute Burns' sophisticated sculptural program. It followed the doctrine of the great English author, John Ruskin, whose 1849 book, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, argued that Gothic sculpture must not be an affair of copyism, where the workman slavishly copied designs made by an artist. Instead, the workman must participate and be encouraged to invent his own designs, drawn from both imagination and the studied arrangement of forms found in nature. Never on such a large scale did American sculptors follow this Ruskinian doctrine as in the Church of the Advocate.28 Burns provided the workmen with general guidelines for the sculpture, but insisted that the "individual workmen should be encouraged to develop their own ideals of the artist's design." This doctrine was established to combat one of the most pernicious effects of the Industrial Revolution, the replacement of guild-oriented handwork by rote work in factories. As such, it demonstrates the same concern for social philanthropy which led the Souths to locate their church in the middle of the new industrial neighborhood.
The consistently high quality of the sculpture reflects the distinctive and unusual work method established by Burns. He avoided the conventional approach of having sculptors work directly from full-sized drawings prepared by the architect. Instead, in order better to gauge the effect of the sculpture, the workmen first made plaster models at full scale which would be judged and corrected before the stone version was carved. Such a process of study is quite rare in America and helps to account for the consistency of the sculpture, its quality, and the smooth integration of sculpture and architecture. Perhaps it also represents a peculiarity of Philadelphia whose sculpture-laden City Hall was likewise studied in plaster models.
The reredos and altar were also of exceptionally high quality. These were designed by Burns and carved by the sculptor Robert D. Kelly, who designed and carved the pulpit after Burns' dismissal from the project. The altar and reredos were conceived as a memorial to honor Mrs. South and funds were raised from the congregation to pay for the work. To help raise the money, Cook paid for photographic reproductions of Burns' drawings of the church interior and the altar which were then sold at $.75 a copy for the benefit of the memorial fund. The total amount to be raised for the altar was $10,000, less than 2% of the total cost of the complex.
The last great component of the design to be completed was the superb stained glass windows by the studio of Clayton & Bell. In this, perhaps more than any other part of the design, Cook played a direct role. In the summer of 1896, he traveled to England and had detailed proposals drawn by two of the leading designers of the period, Clayton & Bell in London and John Hardman & Co. in Birmingham. While Burns may have suggested the two companies, it is clear that Cook had made his own deliberate study. Both firms provided Cook with proposals for a complete stained glass program that included watercolor studies of their designs. Cook commissioned Clayton & Bell to complete the work and arranged for someone from the studio to visit the building (which was now being roofed over) and measure the window openings. From the fall of 1896 through the spring of the following year, the firm made and shipped over sixty-five windows, thirty-four figural and thirty-one temporary windows. It was intended that the simpler glass of the temporary windows would be gradually replaced by commissioned windows, but this was not to be. Instead, the Church of the Advocate provides a rare and highly significant example of a complete stained glass program by this very important English firm.
The substitution of plaster for stone in the church ceiling eventually led to Burns' dismissal from the project. More and more committed to making the church a test case of Ecclesiological orthodoxy, Burns bristled against the compromises forced by the tightened budget. By November 1896, he and Cook were engaged in a struggle for control over the contractors' work and he expressed his dismay when Cook omitted the step of modelling all sculpture in plaster before carving in stone. With most of the church already complete, Cook gambled that they could do without the services of the uncompromising architect. In April 1897, Burns was discharged from the project. Insult followed injury when Burns' portrait, which had been carved over the eastern entrance, was chipped away.
The final work was supervised by Cook himself. As he had promised the congregation in 1895, Cook held the dedication ceremony and officially opened the church on October 11, 1897. Although largely complete, there were still interior decorations to be finished. With Burns no longer acting as a sounding board to the layman, Cook now needed professional advice on artistic matters. He began to lean on the prominent Philadelphia art connoisseur F.S. Darley who helped to revise the design for the stone pulpit that Kelly submitted in 1898. Work proceeded until the turn of the century, consisting chiefly in the completion of the sculptural program and the construction of the roof. Not until 1900, after the church was completed and free of debt, was it admitted into the Pennsylvania Convention of the Episcopal Church.
By choosing for their church a neighborhood with a middle or working class population, the Souths demonstrated that community mission work would be as important as architectural splendor. North Philadelphia was then at the height of its industrial and residential growth but Episcopal congregations were not well-represented, Philadelphia's working class populations being largely Methodist, Baptist, and Catholic. The site selection reflected the Souths' intention to provide missionary service to this new section of the city, an area that they thought would grow to become a significant city center. Even prior to construction, mission work in the form of religious services, Sunday school and community hall functions were begun in the house that originally stood on the site. As the complex went up, community services expanded as did missionary activities which grew to include support of missions in other city neighborhoods as well as missionary work with Native American populations in the westen states. In this respect, its site choice parallels the earlier construction of Bethany Presbyterian Church at 22nd and Bainbridge Streets, the mission church erected by John Wanamaker to serve his store employees who lived south of the city. However, the Advocate was by far the most lavish and architecturally sophisticated church in Philadelphia that was not built to serve a socially elite neighborhood.
However, this mixing of social philanthropy with architectural ambition taxed the limits of the $50,000 endowment given for the upkeep of the property. Without income from pew rents, the church faced an operating deficit every year which was filled quietly by private donations from Richard Cook until his death in 1917. During the next three decades, this dilemma was borne out, as the church was affected by drastic social and economic changes in the surrounding neighborhood. Shortly after the turn of the century, the church reached its peak of membership, with over 1500 communicants and more than 600 attending Sunday School. Already by the 1910s, the original population of the area was changing, particularly as East European Jewish immigrants moved in, escaping from the older immigrant ghettos along the Delaware River. Church leaders now began to worry about declining membership. A second change to the neighborhood occurred in the 1930s and 1940s as a consequence of black immigration from the south. With relatively few black Episcopalians, membership fell to 330 in 1969, roughly a fifth of its previous high.
The Church found a new role for itself however during the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the late 1950s and 60s. Beginning with the ministry of the Rev. Paul M. Washington in 1962, the church has become an important center of civil rights activism and a pioneer in providing social services to its severely disadvantaged community. Rev. Washington enlarged the missionary aims of the church's founders to help people who "were hopeless and discouraged because they lacked power, political power." As he and his ministry became nationally known as advocates for civil rights and minority empowerment, the Church became a leader in the movement, serving as the site of numerous landmark events including the Third Annual National Conference on Black Power in 1968 and the notorious Revolutionary Peoples Constitutional Conference held by the Black Panthers in 1970. In 1974, the Church held the first ordination of eleven women in the Episcopal Church. While the ceremony prompted controversy because it took place two years before the national church voted to make ordination of women canonically possible, the Church is considered the first site to ordain women as priests in the country.
The Church also has become a leader in providing social services to its community. Since the 1960s, the church has operated a program that feeds, clothes and councils hundreds of people on a daily basis. The Advocate Community Development Corporation, founded in 1968, has successfully rehabilitated and repopulated a substantial part of the area within its community. It is one of the largest and most successful programs of its type.
The Church of the Advocate is one of the principal monuments of the Gothic Revival in United States, and the only major one of its period to be based systematically on French sources. It is the best representative of its particular building type: the cathedral type built in accordance with English Gothic ecclesiastical theory. Its intact and complete program of stained glass by one of the leading English firms of the period is a rare and significant monument in the decorative arts. Finally, its lavish program of allegorical sculpture is an exceptional example of the Ruskinian doctrine of involving workmen in the design process, the striking counterpart in architectural terms to the socially progressive program of the church.
Typically, American architects during the nineteenth century used English forms in accordance with English ecclesiological theory, and the vast majority of Gothic Revival Churches in America are reflections of English buildings. Throughout the Gothic Revival, the principal theoretical ideas came from England, in particular through the writings of such men as John Ruskin, A.W.N. Pugin, and the editors of the English journal, the Ecclesiologist. Chief of these ideas were the fidelity to medieval sources, the honest use of materials, and a doctrine of irregular planning that expressed function rather than formal symmetry. America's architectural Anglophilia was reinforced through multiple factors, including the presence of many English emigre architects, profound connections between the English and American religious communities and the great influence of English journals.
Burns was to his death one of America's most loyal adherents to English Ecclesiological doctrine, including the notion of the honest use of materials and the idea that workmen should be involved in the process of design. His great achievement was to take the theoretical ideas of the English Ecclesiological movement and to apply them to French motifs. This was no random juxtaposition, but the outcome of a rational and highly intellectual assessment of architectural history.
Burns judged that English architecture excelled in the small parish church, with its rambling character and intimate scale. But he felt that the large church type reached its perfection in France. Here, he saw the apogee of refinement in the treatment of the nave wall, the highest development of the plan, and the most expressive form of moldings. In a letter to Cook, who basically shared his views during the time they were at odds over the ceiling construction, he expressed his aims for the building "...the best French standards have been our guides. That any should undertake such work... with only a limited knowledge of a few English ceilings, and without knowing that the ceiling of almost all French cathedrals are constructed on finer and quite different lines and principles, it strikes me will only make our work a matter of reproach from those who know, and you, of all your Board, are building for those who know..." Thus his complex assembles French masses but groups them according to English asymmetry; likewise it uses flying buttresses of the French High Gothic in order to proclaim the English principle of truth in materials.
This knowing marriage of English ideas and French forms has no parallel in American architecture nor does it have close counterparts in England or France. Instead, it shows the peculiar freedom of nineteenth-century American architectural practice to extrapolate from the range of European prototypes, simultaneously, and in a single building.
That Burns was the only Gothic Revivalist to attempt such a synthesis was the result of historical accident. When the Ecclesiological movement was at its height, American Episcopalians did not build cathedrals. The great cathedrals of the mid-nineteenth century were not Protestant but Catholic, such as St. Patrick's in New York. By the late 1870s, when the Episcopalian Church began seriously to build cathedrals, Ecclesiological theory was in decline in America. The victory of a Byzantine design in the competition for the New York Cathedral of St. John the Divine ended the phase of dogmatic ecclesiology. The size of the South fortune, and Cook's programmatic and architectural sophistication, gave Burns the unique chance to build a cathedral-sized church in the French Gothic.
Burns' church is unique too for its geographic orientation. Gothic Revival doctrine held that churches should be oriented to the east, in medieval fashion, as an image of resurrection. This was done where possible, although churches invariably deferred to the street line. In American cities, churches generally aligned according to the street which ran closest to the east. In Philadelphia, this meant the deviation of about 17 degrees from true east. The Church of the Advocate, alone of the great American Gothic churches, departs from the conventional real estate grid. This is rare in America where real estate considerations usually take precedence over custom and tradition.
The Church of the Advocate represents the mature flowering of the Gothic Revival in America, the culmination of ideas nearly fifty years old. Its architectural importance lies in the perfection and refinement of a type. As a crowning monument of Ecclesiological design in America, documenting the extent of this international movement, the building is of national importance. The philanthropic legacy of its founders, who provided one of the largest bequests for the erection of a church to remain free in perpetuity, is continued in the ministry and social activism of the Church today which, for the past thirty years, has been at the forefront of national movements in civil and human rights.
Prepared by: Susan Glassman, Director Wagner Free Institute of Science 1700 West Montgomery Avenue Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19121
Edited by: Carolyn Pitts, Architectural Historian National Historic Landmarks Survey National Park Service, Washington, DC