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Church of the Holy Trinity

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1857–1859, John Notman. S. 19th and Walnut sts.
  • (HABS)
  • (HABS)

The chief landmark of the square and one that attested to its social status is the fashionable brownstone Episcopal church whose square tower dominated the skyline until twentieth-century high-rises overwhelmed it. Designed in what was termed the Norman style, doubtless a reference to its round-headed arches and broad proportions, it takes the form of a broad hall-like church that served one of the first of the city's celebrity ministers, Phillips Brooks. Notman's original scheme called for an 80-foot tower surmounted by a 140-foot spire, not unlike the tower of his earlier and nearby St. Mark's ( PH78). Fortunately, the construction of the tower was delayed to the period when Philips Brooks was rector; he successfully fought for the shorter tower, without a spire, that was constructed in 1868 by George W. Hewitt, who had trained with Notman. The great preaching hall, a columnfree space capped by a trilobed roof and interrupted only by cantilevered balconies, anticipates Brooks's next church, H. H. Richardson's Trinity Church on Boston's Copley Square. It was here in Philadelphia that Brooks's beloved Christmas carol “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” accompanied by church organist Lewis Redner's music, was first performed. In 1880, the interior was brought into post–Civil War taste by James P. Sims in collaboration with Boston architect Henry Van Brunt, who ornamented it with stencil patterns, altered the shape of the apse, and designed new pews. The murals in the apse are a 1940s work by Hildreth Meiere, a depiction of the nativity given in memory of Philips Brooks.

The Hewitt brothers added the parish offices to the rear on Walnut Street (1891) as well as the long-demolished but architecturally splendid parish school with its high roof and yellow brick walls trimmed with brownstone that once extended to 20th Street. The choir robing room on the south side is the work of Cope and Stewardson (1897). The congregation commissioned a chapel of ease (Holy Trinity Chapel; PH93) to the west as Rittenhouse expanded.

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Church of the Holy Trinity", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 99-100.

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