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Sacred Spaces

Pictured: Bryn Athyn

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Sacred Places

One way to look at Philadelphia’s legacy of liberty is through its sacred places. Freedom to worship openly in a multi-faith community was rare in the early 1700s, even in America. William Penn, a Quaker who suffered persecution in England, considered religious freedom essential to civil liberty and wrote it into his 1701 Charter of Liberties for Philadelphia, the town he called his “Holy Experiment.”

Today, Philadelphia’s more than 800 houses of worship include the most “first churches” (within their denominations) in the country, and represent many different faiths, architectural styles and communities.

Featured Listings

  • Gloria Dei [Old Swedes’] Church

    Oldest church in Pennsylvania is a link to early Swedish settlers

    The sanctuary of Old Swedes Church.

    Gloria Dei was built between 1698 and 1700 to serve a parish of Swedish settlers who lived along the banks of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. In 1845, it joined the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. The interior was renovated, and balconies were added. In 1942, Gloria Dei was named a National Historic Site.

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  • Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

    The oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans

    Inside the Mother Bethel Church

    Walk on hallowed ground when you visit Mother Bethel AME Church, the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination. Founded in 1787, the church rests upon the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans.

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  • Old Pine Street (Third, Scots and Mariners) Presbyterian Church

    The oldest Presbyterian church building in Philadelphia

    Old Pine Street Church

    The oldest Presbyterian church building in Philadelphia.

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  • Bryn Athyn

    Cathedral for the General Church of New Jerusalem (New Church)

    The beauty of Bryn Athyn Cathedral in Montgomery County.

    The Church of New Jerusalem (New Church) was formed in England in the late 1700’s, to worship using the Old and New Testaments and Writings which interpret the Bible as parable (written by Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg). In the late 1800’s, a Philadelphia New Church congregation moved out of the city to Bryn Athyn. Principal patron John Pitcairn financed the construction of the Cathedral, which was dedicated in 1919.

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  • National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia

    A breathtaking memorial for a 14th-century saint

    A statue of St. Rita is the centerpiece of the shrine.

    Built in the style of a 14th-century Renaissance church, the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia incorporates frescos, marble and stained glass in its homage to St. Rita.

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  • Shiloh Baptist

    An historic church designed by the renowned Frank Furness

    A beautiful piece of period architecture designed by the renowned Frank Furness, Shiloh plays host to expertly curated dance and visual art events.

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  • Calvary Center for Culture and Community

    The meeting place

    A true reflection of Cedar Park’s diverse population and collaborative energy, the Calvary Center plays host to faith-based gatherings, community groups, music, theater, radio and more.

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  • Cathedral Basilica of
    Saints Peter and Paul

    The largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania

    Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul

    Opened in 1864, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter of Paul serves as the principal or Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as it houses the chair or “cathedra” of the Archbishop.

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  • Rodeph Shalom Synagogue

    A 1920s-era architectural marvel and home to the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art

    This synagogue, built in 1927, is an outstanding example of the Byzantine style. The building, which places home to the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, is free and open to the public.

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  • The Woodlands Cemetery and Mansion

    1840s cemetery and Federal-style mansion

    The Woodlands Cemetery and Mansion.

    Renowned for his work in horticulture, landscape design and botany, William Hamilton, Andrew’s grandson, was asked by Thomas Jefferson to plant some seeds harvested during Lewis and Clark’s expeditions. Eventually, the estate boasted more than 10,000 species of plants. Today, more than 720 historic trees and plants have survived and are scattered throughout the property.

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  • Philadelphia Cathedral

    Episcopal Cathedral recalls 4th-century Christian basilica

    The sanctuary of the Philadelphia Cathedral.

    The Church of the Savior, originally built in 1855, was redesigned by Charles Burnes, Jr., in 1889 and rebuilt in 1906 after a fire destroyed most of the original structure. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, it was named the first Cathedral of the Pennsylvania diocese in 1992. The 2002 renovation removed the pews to create space consistent with the earliest Christian buildings in design and purpose: a space for worship, community, protection and inspiration.

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  • Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill Cemeteries

    Who’s who of deceased Philadelphia in a magnificent setting

    A cherry tree at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

    Laurel Hill Cemetery was laid out on a series of winding paths above the Schuylkill River in 1836. It lays claim to being the first architecturally designed cemetery in the country. It became the cemetery of the elite and was a popular burial place for Civil War generals, including George Meade, the Union victor at Gettysburg. West Laurel Hill opened after Laurel Hill started becoming too crowded.

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  • Gloria Dei [Old Swedes’] Church

    Oldest church in Pennsylvania is a link to early Swedish settlers

    The sanctuary of Old Swedes Church.

    Gloria Dei was built between 1698 and 1700 to serve a parish of Swedish settlers who lived along the banks of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. In 1845, it joined the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. The interior was renovated, and balconies were added. In 1942, Gloria Dei was named a National Historic Site.

    View More
  • Bryn Athyn

    Cathedral for the General Church of New Jerusalem (New Church)

    The beauty of Bryn Athyn Cathedral in Montgomery County.

    The Church of New Jerusalem (New Church) was formed in England in the late 1700’s, to worship using the Old and New Testaments and Writings which interpret the Bible as parable (written by Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg). In the late 1800’s, a Philadelphia New Church congregation moved out of the city to Bryn Athyn. Principal patron John Pitcairn financed the construction of the Cathedral, which was dedicated in 1919.

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